Workwear hygiene for waste handlers is a largely ignored issue but one that is nonetheless important and worthy of further investigation.
We know that the external surfaces of most clinical waste containers carry micro-organisms that originate from those wastes. Waste handling procedures that reduce manual handling of individual waste containers do not provide complete protection as the bulk container is likely to be contaminated, as are the wastes within. Spillages make the matter much worse.
When waste containers are handled, it is inevitable that some of the contaminating micro-organisms will be transferred, to the environment and more importantly to the operator. Good standards of hand hygiene will and avoidance of spillages will generally be adequate, though standards are often below a required standard. But what of the workwear?
We know that gloves become contaminated during use and can contaminate hands, even after washing, when gloves are handled moments later, or stored in a vehicle cab that itself becomes contaminated and then contaminates ungloved hands. That same contamination and cross-contamination is likely also with more basic workwear items. Clothing may become contaminated during use, even if spillage can be avoided.
What happened to that workwear? It isn’t removed at break times, nor is it removed at the end of the shift. Staff go home and it is uncertain at what point it will be removed. Before or after a quick hour in the pub? Before sitting down to dinner, or perhaps afterwards. In some cases, not at all. And if that workwear is contaminated, so too will be the seat of the car, bus or tube; and the seating in the staffroom, the pub, and in the home. When workwear is removed for laundry then further contamination will occur, though normal household machine wash cycles will probably be adequate to sanitize. Is this a hazard? Since we need always to consider the health and safety of staff, the study will hopefully provide support in staff training, promoting personal hygiene and eliminate concerns over workwear hygiene.
The proposed research will involve some simple questionnaires for staff about the length of time they have worn their current workwear items, how, when and where they had been laundered, travel and break time arrangements, and a few questions about the frequency of splash contamination events together with a note about the materials and style of current workwear and any summer and winter variants. With the permission of the individual, some simple bacteriological samples will be collected from various positions on the workwear surfaces for later laboratory analysis.
The numbers and types of micro-organisms present on workwear will be recorded. It is anticipated that these data will define the current standard of workwear hygiene for waste handlers, and may illuminate a need for more frequent change, different styles or materials, or the use of a disposable apron or more extensive overgarment.
The results will be shared with contributors ahead of publication in a suitable scientific journal. All work will be anonymized, with no identifiable reference to any individuals or to their employers.
Can you help? Each sampling event will be minimally disruptive to site operations. There will be no costs, except perhaps a cup of tea! The more sites included, the better the results will be so we would be keen to enrol at least 6 or 7 different companies and multiple sites for each.
The work will identify, or refute, any possible hygiene concerns for waste handler workwear, and should inform the development of some model guidelines for worker hygiene. It is proposed that the results will be made freely available to all.
If you feel able to provide access to staff working in a clinical waste operation, or would like further details of this research study, please do get in touch.