How do you use alcohol gel properly and safely in the workplace?
Washing hands regularly and thoroughly is one of the general rules of thumb in the battle against the coronavirus. And for good reason. After all, COVID-19 is an ‘enveloped virus’, which means that it has a protective outer membrane known as a ‘lipid bilayer’. It is this membrane that enables the virus to enter the host cell. Soap and alcohol combined with rubbing dissolve that protective wall, causing the virus to fall apart.
4 effective tips
Washing hands with soap and water is preferable, but this is not always possible in the workplace. Alcohol gel is a good alternative, but with four considerations:
- The product has an alcohol percentage of between 70% and 90%, which is stated on the label in one of various ways: alcohol denat, isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, 1-propanol or propan 2-ol.
- At least 3 ml is needed for a single disinfection. If you have automatic dispensers, check to make sure they release enough hand alcohol each time.
- All areas of the hands must be rubbed. This takes 20 to 30 seconds. This poster shows the 7 steps.
- Soap and water continue to be the best preventive measure. If hands are not washed often or thoroughly enough with soap and water, the effectiveness of hand gel is reduced. After all, the alcohol dissolves fat and dirt, not the virus particles.
The composition of hand sanitiser is different for every manufacturer, from an added scent to additives that keep hands from drying out. Some hand gels feel a bit sticky as a result, but this has no impact on the effectiveness of the product. Liquid hand sanitiser often leaves hands feeling less sticky, but is more prone to spilling.
How do you ensure safe use?
Due to the high alcohol percentage – and, consequently, high flammability – the use of hand gels and sanitisers is not without risk, also in the workplace. That is why there are a number of general safety measures that must be followed, such as a ban on smoking and open flames and the use of safety goggles when there is a splash risk.
Specific measures also apply to the storage, use and drainage of these products. Do you buy hand sanitiser and alcohol in quantities of over 5 litres? If so, additional guidelines apply. An overview of all measures can be found here.
Vending machines with hand gel can be found at train stations, airports, hospitals and other public buildings. Since these are workplaces and large quantities are often involved, these machines also need to comply with all legal requirements.
How can you protect your employees?
Your employees must follow all safety guidelines. Clear communication is essential to ensuring this. These safety tips can help:
- Alcohol and heat are a dangerous combination. In hot conditions, the alcohol in the gel can evaporate, which can cause a fire. So, keep all hand gel out of direct sunlight, whether at a construction site or in a vehicle.
- After disinfecting, a small amount of alcohol vapour will remain briefly around hands. If an ignition source comes into contact with that vapour, a burst of flame will develop. So, keep away from heat sources like a hot oven or welding machine immediately after using hand sanitiser.
- Alcohol gel is extremely toxic. So, it should never be consumed. Also avoid contact with eyes. If consumed, an employee must contact the Antigifcentrum (poison control centre) immediately.
- Excessive use of hand gel can cause skin irritation and rashes. Using hand cream and pH-neutral soup regularly can help soothe skin. Perfumed gels may be hazardous when exposed to sunlight, as they contain substances that can cause dark patches on skin.