By James C. Elledge, IFMA Fellow, CFM, FMA, RPA, RIAQM
Published in the July 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Q In one of your past answers, you mentioned studies indicate papertowels are more hygienic than hand dryers. Could you please direct meto one?
A There are several studies out there which support any of the threetypes of hand drying choices: paper towels, air dryers, and cloth rolltowels. The aforementioned study that lists the choices in thispreferred order was conducted by the Mayo Clinic.
Obviously,the cleaning expectations in the medical world are different from thenormal office environment. I would acknowledge that if workers properlywashed their hands and then proceeded to dry them thoroughly with atouchless hand dryer, then this method should be sufficiently hygienic.
Themain issue with touchless equipment is the actual dryness factor. Wethands are more apt to contamination from germs, so if the user does notwait long enough for the hand dryer to do its job, the user’s handscould get contaminated sooner.
Consider these facts:
- A dry hand carries four to five billion germs;
- Underneath a ring, there are 400 million germs; and
- Underneath a fingernail, there are eight to nine million germs.
As far as how hands can be contaminated, here are some additional facts—and fallacies.
Claim. The bathroom door handle on the public restroom is the germiest place.
False.Door handles actually have the least bacteria of any surface in publicrestrooms, according to a test by Chuck Gerba, Ph.D., a professor ofenvironmental microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.That’s because, according to Gerba’s tests, 68% of people wash theirhands before leaving the restroom.
To pick up something likesalmonella from someone who didn’t wash up, you’d need a huge dose ofthe bacteria. Also, most bacteria needs a warm, moist environment tosurvive and can live on hard, dry surfaces for only one to two hours.
Claim. The desk in your office is much dirtier than a toilet bowl.
True.The average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet bowl,simply because people usually don’t clean their desks on a regularbasis, says Gerba.
Most of these germs are harmless, but in arecent study, Gerba and his colleagues found the parainfluenza virus,which causes colds and flu, on about one third of office surfaces. Keepmicrobe levels on your desk down by regularly cleaning it with adisinfecting wipe, particularly during flu season.
Don’t applydisinfectant directly to equipment, which can damage it. First spraythe disinfectant on a paper towel and then wipe down surfaces.
Whatthe germiest object in the workplace? The phone! If you share a phone,clean it every day. Wash your hands often (with warm water and soap oran alcohol-based hand sanitizer), and don’t touch your face, says Gerba.
Virusescan survive for two or three days on desktops, phones, and computerkeyboards. They’re transmitted when you touch contaminated objects andthen put your hands on your nose, mouth, and eyes, says Gerba.
Bythe way, the door handle on the microwave in the office kitchen is alsoa very germy place. So be sure to wash your hands after heating up yourlunch.
There is one area where hand dryers score very well—theenvironment. For every ton of paper not used, these savings arerealized:
- 17 trees;
- 6,953 gallons of water;
- 463 gallons of oil;
- 587 pounds of air pollution;
- 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space; and
- 4,077 kilowatt hours of energy.
Whenyou consider that only 68% of people wash their hands after visitingthe restroom (according to the American Society for Microbiology),clearly there’s a bigger problem that needs to be addressed (regardlessof the studies supporting the paper towel vs. hand dryer debate)!
Elledge,facility/office services manager for Dallas, TX-based Summit AllianceCompanies, is the recipient of the Distinguished Author Award from theInternational Facility Management Association (IFMA), is an IFMA Fellow, and isa member of TFM’sEditorial Advisory Board. All questions have been submitted via the “Ask TheExpert” portion of the magazine’s Web site. To pose a question, visit this link.
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