Gloves on or off?

The global Covid-19 pandemic has really put hand hygiene in the spotlight. Which, as a hygiene services provider, is where Initial Hygiene – part of Rentokil Initial – has always maintained it should be. NATALIE LEBLOND, category manager at the company, provides more info

Gloves can play a huge role in the prevention of cross-contamination in the food industry, and glove compliance is more easily monitored than a hand washing regime. So, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, should all employers insist that their employees wear gloves, regardless of which sector they work in?

There is clear evidence to suggest that gloves do not always prevent pathogens from spreading: this is because gloves themselves can be the source of contamination, just like bare hands.

A study in the Journal of Food Protection, conducted in a fast-food restaurant and involving the comparison of gloved and non-gloved employees handling different foods, found the bacterial counts were consistently higher in the foods handled by gloved employees.

But why does this happen? The study notes that “the observed tendency of workers to wear the same pair of gloves for extended periods and complacency might account for the apparent failure of gloves to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. The results further suggest that glove use might be counterproductive because workers might wash their hands less frequently when gloved.”

While these studies were conducted in food premises, the behaviours observed are applicable in a multitude of scenarios. Gloves aren’t the silver bullet to hand hygiene, which is why I suggest that, before making a decision, any employer seriously consider both the advantages and disadvantages of insisting that employees wear gloves.

There are a number of factors to take into consideration, not least the cost of providing numerous pairs of gloves per employee per day.

Advantages of wearing gloves:

  Customer reassurance, satisfaction and perception (especially if you are a food manufacturer);

  They act as an extra layer over hands to protect employees against pathogenic organisms;

  They can be useful if someone returns to work and is recovering from a virus;

  Compliance is easily monitored;

  They protect sensitive hands; and

  They improve hand grip.

Disadvantages of wearing gloves:

  The wrong-sized glove could tear or puncture leading to contamination;

  Gloves may become contaminated themselves and can cause cross-contamination;

  They can create a sense of false security in the mind of the wearer;

  They may not be changed frequently enough; and

  They are expensive, leading to an increase in business costs.

For managers who do decide to implement a “gloves on” policy, there are some guidelines to try and minimise the issues found in the study:

  Create a glove policy and train employees on glove standard operating procedures;

  Wash and sanitise hands before putting on gloves;

  Remove contaminated gloves and replace with fresh ones when moving between surfaces or foods;

  Change gloves immediately after the contaminated material is touched;

  Do not reuse disposable gloves;

  Always dispose of gloves before using the restroom;

  Understand which type of gloves are best suited for the intended purpose;

  Replace gloves every two hours to guard against possible unseen punctures; and

  Ensure that the wearing of gloves and regular hand washing and sanitising are seen as complementary activities, rather than mutually exclusive.

Even the best gloves are no substitute for regular, thorough hand washing, which is essential to help minimise the spread of viruses like Covid-19. Visit www.initial.co.za for free handwashing tools and materials for your business or subscribe to our blog for regular hygiene updates and insights.

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