Mind and Body

Employees report many co-workers not washing hands in office bathrooms

Hygiene continues to take a hit in the American workplace, according to a new survey. Although we give lip service to the value of good sanitary practices, including hand-washing after using the bathroom, those practices are frequently honored more in theory than in observance. More than a third of Americans (35 percent) have witnessed co-workers leaving facilities without washing their hands.

While many Americans (60 percent) realize that hand-washing is an important step to staying healthy, awareness does not necessarily translate into practice, according to a survey of more than 1,000 Americans sponsored by SCA, a maker of out-of-home hygiene products.

Survey respondents admitted to skimping on personal hand hygiene after coming into contact with a number of germ-laden environments and objects. Nearly four in 10 adults (39 percent) admit to not washing their hands after sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose, the survey found. More than half of Americans do not typically wash their hands after riding public transportation (59 percent), using shared exercise equipment (51 percent) or handling money (53 percent).

The survey also found that men indeed live up to the popular Madison Avenue image of the clueless male, at least when it comes to hygiene. There is a dramatic disparity between the sexes when it comes to personal hand-washing habits. More than a third of men (33 percent) admit they do not wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after using a public restroom compared with just one in five women (20 percent).

In fact, men lag behind women in terms of whether they say they wash their hands in almost every scenario surveyed by SCA. Men are less likely than women to typically wash their hands after handling garbage, touching an animal, or sneezing or coughing. In addition, two-thirds of women (65 percent) describe hand-washing as being critical compared with just over half of men (54 percent). Men, on the other hand, were more likely to describe hand-washing as being a necessary hassle (36 percent of men compared with 26 percent of women).

"The average human hand has millions of bacteria, many good, but also sometimes some that can harm health. In addition, we can also carry viruses from touching surfaces that are contaminated," said Dr. Allison Aiello, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan and a member of SCA's advisory council. "While over half of SCA’s survey respondents believe that hand-washing is important, there are still clear gaps in the relationship between beliefs and practices. More work is needed to better understand how educating individuals about hand hygiene can translate into improving practice."


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