Do you know how to wash your hands? Now, before you complain about bloggers who ask dumb questions, let me rephrase that question slightly: Do you know how to wash your hands properly? Chances are you don’t.
This issue arose when I found myself getting frustrated by restaurants that piously posted signs in restrooms instructing employees to wash their hands carefully, yet those same restaurants refused to provide hot water for hand washing. How on earth could that be hygienic? This set me down the path of learning more about hand washing. Although I’m a scrupulous hand washer, I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn about the mechanics of hand washing. Among the things I learned are the following:
- While hot water is nice, it’s not necessary. If you were serious about using water temperature to blitz the bacteria on your hands, the water would have to be scalding hot.
- The key to effective hand washing is friction — it’s the rubbing of one soapy hand against the other that dislodges the oil that holds the dirt and bacteria on your skin.
- According to the Center for Disease Control, you must scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds to clean them properly. How long is 20 seconds? The time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice.
So clearly, even after a lifetime of diligent hand washing, I need to go back to hand washing school. What about you?
Now even if you do better than I do on the hand washing test, how are your hand drying skills? (I can hear you asking yourself, is she crazy? How hard can it be to dry your own hands???!) Bear with me a moment. Even if you know the basics of how to make wet hands dry, do you know the best method for every context? For example, what’s the best way to dry your hands if you’re trying to keep your hands germ free? What’s better: a cloth towel, a paper towel or one of those jet air dryers? (Hint: it may not be the jet air dryer.)
What if you only have paper towels to dry with? Doesn’t that damage the environment? Is there a way to dry your hands and protect the environment? It took an entertaining TED talk by Joe Smith to show me how to dry my hands without ever needing more than a single paper towel.
This foray through hand washing and drying is intended to illustrate a larger point. If we still have much to learn about tasks we’ve performed nearly every day of our lives, why do we believe we don’t need ongoing training for the tasks we perform at work? Technology changes, contexts vary, best practices improve. Are you confident that you have learned and incorporated the latest training into your work? If not, why not?
The next time you wash and dry your hands, consider what other areas of your life could benefit from a refresher course. We all need training.
[Photo Credit: Patrick J. Lynch]