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Why handrail and hygiene go hand in hand

Wooden handrail and steel brackets

By now we all know that hand hygiene has an important role to play in controlling the spread of Covid-19 – and we’ve all been soaping up, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and smothering our hands in alcohol sanitizer more than ever before in our lifetimes.

But SARS-CoV-2 isn’t the first bug to capitalize on less-than-optimal hygiene habits and it certainly won’t be the last.  As we move forward, increased focus on preventing disease transmission via our hands is likely to remain front and centre.

So what’s lurking on our hands?

Human skin is teeming with bacteria, all of the time – and most of these are so-called ‘good’ bacteria that form the skin’s natural microbiome, a delicately balanced ecosystem that actually protects us from disease.  

Sometimes, however, this system can become unbalanced – for example if we get a cut or abrasion, or if we are exposed to harsh chemicals, and this can allow bacteria that are usually harmless to grow out of control.  

Other times, our hands become contaminated with potentially dangerous germs such as staph, strep, and the intestinal bacteria that cause food poisoning and diarrhoea.  Research shows that around a quarter of people are carrying faecal bacteria on their hands at any one time.  Healthcare personnel are particularly likely to carry the most troublesome bacteria, especially on their hands, and these can hang around on the hands long enough to spread from person to person either through direct contact, or indirectly via surfaces.

So what does this mean?

Well, first and foremost it means that we all need to remain fastidious about washing our hands regularly to remove bacteria – using hot, soapy water and washing for 20 seconds is enough to kill around 99.9% of all pathogens.

However, washing hands doesn’t do anything to prevent them from becoming recontaminated.  Touch your face, a door handle or shake hands with a colleague and you immediately reintroduce bacteria and viruses to your skin.  This means that hand washing is only effective as an infection control strategy when combined with an equally robust strategy for surface hygiene.

Keeping surfaces clean helps to minimize the transfer of germs from hand to hand via that surface.  It’s especially important for frequently-touched surfaces like door handles and handrails. 

In hospitals and other healthcare settings, handrails are essential for helping people move around safely, and a vital aid for those with mobility problems – but they also represent a big risk in terms of cross-infection.  They represent a significant surface area that must be kept clean through regular disinfection.

That’s why we’ve seen so many hospitals and care homes moving to upgrade or replace their handrails this past year.  Old and worn or porous handrails made from wood or heavily textured materials can make it almost impossible to effectively kill bacteria, viruses and spores using normal cleaning methods – and this can make handrails a ticking time bomb in terms of infection.

The good news is, it’s relatively straightforward to replace your handrails, and there are many options available depending on the requirements of your facility or service user.  Choose from standard round or oval profiles, bariatric options designed in steel to support greater loads, combined handrail/bumper guard options for busy hallways, faux wood for a homey feel and even handrails with built-in antimicrobial protection to minimize the spread of infection in between cleans.

Hand hygiene is all our responsibility and handrail has a major role to play.  Contact Belroc today to talk through your options and learn more about our installation services designed to minimize disruption even in live healthcare environments.