Safety Signs Blog

Why the Wash your hands sign is more than just about pleasing the authorities

13th May 2011 | Health and Safety Signs

Posted by David Arnold

When it comes to Wash your hands signs to many sign installers it is more of a tick the box exercise than an issue of hygiene. Many responsible people feel that the authorities will be down on them like a “tonne of bricks” if they do not display a wash your hands sign within the toilets in their building. Worse still, if they operate a commercial kitchen they may feel the authorities will probably shut them down if they do not display this sign prominently. Whether these two points are true or not is not up for consideration in today’s article. Instead, the following looks at why the wash your hands sign has become a core requirement for every UK workplace.

Lets start with the facts…….

As people touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, they gather germs on their hands. In turn, they can then infect themselves with these germs by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Although it is impossible to keep hands germ-free, many experts the world over believe that regular washing of hands is the best way to help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes and prevent infection and illness.

In short, failure to wash hands could cause any one of the following severe illnesses:

  • E. coli Poisoning: The E. coli bacteria stems from an infected person’s contaminated stools. Failure to wash hands after visiting the toilet can pass E. coli on to other people directly or indirectly via surfaces or food. Ingesting this bacteria causes severe diarrhoea and cramping for about one week. In some extreme cases it can result in kidney failure.
  • Salmonella Poisoning: Coming from raw poultry or uncooked eggs it can easily spread to other foods with contaminated hands. Anyone affected will experience stomach pains, loose stools, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. This can be very dangerous to elderly people.
  • Fatal Bacteremia: In any sort of healthcare environment, poor or no hand washing can have fatal consequences. Bacteria can be transferred from patient to patient via the hands. During certain activities bacteria can be introduced from unwashed hands into the bloodstream, causing a severe systemic and potentially fatal infection.
  • Colds and Flu: Spread through hand-to-hand contact (as well as through the air), sneezing or coughing into the hands can only encourage the spread of germs and diseases. However, washing hands immediately afterwards could prevent the virus spreading.


Having read the above, at least now the people who were only installing the wash your hands sign for the benefit of the “Authorities” can now feel comforted that this safety sign could deliver a genuine benefit to them and others as well.

Ideally the wash hands sign should be appropriately positioned in the following locations:

  • Food preparation areas, especially raw meat or poultry is involved
  • Toilet areas
  • Nappy changing areas
  • Waste areas
  • Around animals, leashes and even animal toys
  • First aid rooms
  • Hospitals and care homes


On the final bullet point above, some hospitals are increasingly looking to utilise the space on the floor to convey this essential hygiene message. With notice boards cluttered and limited for free space, a floor graphic with the Wash your hands message can be one of the best places to display this message. This is partly because many people do not expect to see the sign on the floor and, as they are not expecting it, studies suggest they stand a far greater chance of actually reading it and taking note.

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