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Hand hygiene is vital in stopping the spread of germs, so most nursing staff will have experienced how excessive hand washing can cause painful skin conditions.  

Ahead of Hand Hygiene Day on 5 May, here’s how you can keep your hands safe at work and how RCN safety reps can help reduce incidences of work-related skin conditions.

Taking care

Health care professionals are constantly washing their hands, which can make them vulnerable to dry skin complaints. Research shows that washing your hands more than 20 times a day is enough to cause contact dermatitis. 

Handwashing is a necessary part of the job for all nursing staff, but it can be done safely 

This painful condition can cause itchiness, redness, scaling and blisters, which may weep and swell. It can even lead to the skin cracking, which can be an infection risk to staff and patients. If the condition deteriorates, nursing staff may have to be deployed to non-clinical areas. 

“Handwashing is a necessary part of the job for all nursing staff, but it can be done safely to help avoid any painful or debilitating skin conditions,” says Helen Williams, vice chair of the RCN UK Health and Safety Reps Committee. 

If you notice any disruption to your skin, like itching or changes in colour, it’s vital that you report it early on.

Helen says: “It’s important that nursing staff speak up and report their concerns to managers, complete an incident form and inform occupational health services. You can reach out to your RCN rep for advice too”. 

Handwashing: top tips 

  • Wet hands before applying soap. 
  • Adjust the water temperature if you can so it’s not too hot or too cold. 
  • Use soft, absorbent hand towels to dry hands thoroughly. 
  • Pat hands dry and pay attention to between the fingers. 
  • Moisturise regularly and especially once you’ve left the clinical area after your shift. This gives the moisturiser time to soak in and do its job.

Making smart decisions

Gloves are one of the most common plastic items used by health care staff, with an estimated 1.4 billion gloves used across the NHS every year. 

Unnecessarily wearing gloves can undermine hand hygiene strategies, actually increase the prevalence of contact dermatitis, and miss opportunities to make services more environmentally friendly.  


Think twice before putting gloves on 


By reducing unnecessary glove use, you can reduce waste at all points in the glove production and use cycle, and save your skin too. 

“Nursing staff play an important role in the strategies around glove use and handwashing. Limiting glove use is better for the environment and it can reduce the incidence of painful skin conditions,” says Helen. 

Glove use: think twice 

“Always think twice before putting gloves on. Unless you’re coming in to contact with bodily fluids, ask yourself if gloves are really necessary,” vice chair of the RCN UK Health and Safety Reps Committee Helen Williams advises. 

  • glove use is not a substitute for good hand hygiene 
  • ensure gloves are only worn when necessary 
  • wash and dry your hands thoroughly before and after you wear gloves  
  • and don’t forget to moisturise, moisturise, moisturise.

hand hygiene glove awareness

What can RCN reps do?

Your employer should have a programme of skin checks in place for nursing staff exposed to the risk of work-related dermatitis, so ask for more information about how they intend to support staff if any are affected.

“Make sure there are visual aids around the department on skin health, especially around hand-washing areas, and emphasise the need for wearing gloves at appropriate times during the shift,” says Helen.

“Keep in mind the importance of removing gloves and washing with soap and water, drying well and then regularly applying moisturiser.”

Further information

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