Coronavirus: Test shows most people can’t accurately count to 20 seconds for hand washing

An online test of more than 1,000 people has found that just 57% of people can accurately count 20 seconds.

The online test asked users to start a timer and stop it when they think 20 seconds has passed:

  • 57% of people were more than three seconds off
  • 39% counted less than 20 seconds
  • 23% counted less than 18 seconds
  • Only 53% counted 20 seconds or more

The results suggest that, even when people are actively trying to wash their hands for 20 seconds, two in every five people aren’t washing for long enough to remove coronavirus and other microorganisms.

In response, a team of British engineers has launched Wavewash; a simple gadget to help people wash their hands more thoroughly.

Wavewash partner, Martin Hurworth said: “Health authorities around the world are urging us to wash our hands for 20 seconds using soap and water every time as it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways we can avoid getting sick and spreading germs and viruses to others.

“Unfortunately, accurately counting to 20 seconds is actually pretty hard, even if you sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice and lots of people cut corners and forget to wash their hands for that long.

“Telling people to wash their hands more thoroughly can work, but positive reinforcement, timely reminders and a little help can work so much better at nudging us into doing the right thing.”

Wavewash can be fitted above sinks in any business, home, or healthcare premises, reminding people to wash their hands more thoroughly and helping them to achieve a 20 second wash every time.

Wavewash is intended for use in a wide range of businesses to help staff and customers to wash their hands more thoroughly and meet their obligations under government guidelines. 

Once activated with a wave of the hand, Wavewash begins a light-up timer to indicate how long a person should continue washing their hands. The 30 second timer gives users enough time to wet their hands, apply soap and wash for the 20 seconds which is recommended by the NHS and advised by the government.

Under the government’s recently published COVID-19 guidance for employers, employers should advise workers to regularly wash their hands for 20 seconds and they should consider providing any additional facilities needed to do so.

Wavewash can be used in the toilets of pubs, cafes and restaurants to improve hygiene and reduce the spread of germs and viruses. It can also be used by businesses involved in food processing and preparation, where hand hygiene is essential.

Health authorities around the world, including Public Health England and the NHS recommend that everyone should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water to easily and effectively remove the microorganisms which can cause illness, including COVID-19 coronavirus.

Ahead of its launch, 100 Wavewash devices have been offered to healthcare providers including care homes and hospices to help them protect staff and patients from coronavirus.

The device has been designed to help all businesses, including those in healthcare to comply with governmental guidelines for hygiene and for the prevention and control of infections. As a result, Wavewash is intended to play a major role in helping businesses to prepare for life after the nationwide lockdown comes to an end, when good hand hygiene is expected to be crucial.

As part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s social distancing guidelines, every business is expected to advise workers to wash their hands using soap and water for 20 seconds regularly, and should consider providing additional facilities to help with this. Wavewash can help companies towards fulfilling these requirements, reminding workers to wash their hands thoroughly and helping them to wash for 20 seconds every time.

Wavewash’s smart design and simple interface also makes it ideal for the home, helping parents and children to clean their hands and keep one another safe.

Wavewash has been developed by a team of British engineers who were inspired after speaking to doctors and nurses about the problems caused by people failing to properly wash their hands in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

The gadget is a simple tech solution which works using a non-contact sensor, so there’s no need to touch the device at all. It can also be fitted to virtually any surface using screws or a self-adhesive pad which are included and its smooth surface avoids the build-up of dirt and germs.

While washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is advised by the NHS, Public Health England and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown that a 20-second hand wash with liquid soap is enough to effectively remove dirt, organic matter and most transient microorganisms which are acquired through direct contact with a person and from the environment.

Hand washing can minimise the spread of illnesses including influenza, diarrhea and respiratory infections, and governments around the world recommend it as a central part of their advice to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Hand washing also reduces the risk of food poisoning.

However, recent studies in real-world settings have suggested that just 5% of people wash their hands for long enough, with the average wash lasting only six seconds.

Wavewash is inspired by the ‘nudge theory’ of behavioural science which is widely used by governments and public health bodies. The concept is that individuals are more likely to make particular choices or behave in a certain way if they are positively encouraged and supported to make it through indirect suggestions, rather than coercion or education.

The makers of Wavewash hope that the device will lead to more people thoroughly washing their hands in future, helping to make 20 second-long hand washing a permanent habit.

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