If schools are to avoid the spread of germs and bacteria, hand hygiene is crucial. Paul Jakeway, Marketing Director at skin care expert Deb, explains.
Children are naturally curious. They like to explore things – and for this they often use their hands. At school, this comes with a risk. Hands can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria – and the main vehicle for their transfer. Illnesses such as colds and the flu can be the result. On average, children have 3 to 8 colds a year as their immune system is more vulnerable to infection.
Illness is the largest contributor to absenteeism from school, constituting almost 60% of all absences across schools in England. This can massively impact children’s learning and class performance. Absenteeism also affects parents, who are forced to take time off to look after their ill children.
The simplest way for schools and parents to help avoid illnesses at school is that age-old mantra of effective hand washing.
It is important to note that water alone does not clean hands effectively. Over 75% of people either don’t wash their hands at all or don’t use soap to clean their hands properly. This lack of education about the importance of soap when washing their hands could be contributing heavily to the spread of infectious diseases in school. A survey by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine unearthed that only 63.8% of primary school pupils regularly washed their hands with soap at school, a figure which dropped to 39% for secondary school pupils.
Every primary school in the UK is obliged to teach pupils how to maintain personal hygiene and improve their health and wellbeing as part of the National Curriculum. Schools must adhere to this and value effective hand washing as a priority within schools to improve attendance and reduce illnesses, and one way this can be done is by informing school children of the generally accepted technique for hand washing.
The correct technique is to wet, lather, rub, rinse and dry, however this aspect of hygiene education isn’t being effectively taught in school. Many school children are unaware of the importance of correct and thorough hand washing, or the impact it may have on their health. If schools were to make the hand washing procedure fun, engaging and memorable for schoolchildren, then it is likely to increase overall hand hygiene compliance.
Teachers and parents also have a responsibility to promote hand hygiene awareness and compliance to school children. Both should be leading by example and be seen to wash their own hands frequently throughout the day, using the proper techniques.
In order to reduce germ transfer, it is advisable that primary schools set up a sealed cartridge soap dispensing system, a far more hygienic, economical and environmentally-friendly option than bar soap or bulk fill systems. These dispensing systems are easy to operate for children, and maintenance costs are minimal for schools.
To further encourage hand hygiene compliance and reduce the transfer of bacteria, schools must also understand the value of investing in brightly coloured and attractive dispensers to help engage children in the hand washing process. In addition to these visually enticing dispensers, schools should also ensure that education materials are in plentiful supply throughout the school. Posters for children on how and why they should wash their hands with soap are crucial to reinforce the message, as is providing teachers with well thought-out lesson plans and activities on the topic.
Effectively conveying the importance of hand hygiene compliancy from an early age and getting children into the habit of washing their hands as part of a daily routine at school and at home will help to ensure that this practise becomes part of their lifelong routine.