Sorry if we sound like your mother, but this is a reminder to wash your hands.
We here are proud to be professional health and safety educators, but spreading healthy habits doesn’t require a degree. In fact, every time you were told as a child (or adult) to cover your sneeze or change your socks, you were talking to a health educator. These days handwashing is one of the first such daily practices we learn, and for those accustomed to indoor plumbing the sink is as natural to find in the bathroom as the toilet.
For those working in the great outdoors – like our nation’s farm fields – handwashing can be trickier than turning a faucet handle. Any farm with 12 or more employees (large farms) must provide their workers with restroom facilities up to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Washing, or “decontamination,” materials are an integral part of this regulation, for their foundational importance stopping the flow of germs from person to person. According to the EPA, three simple pieces make up an adequate wash station. Can you guess them?
Life’s favorite liquid! Water’s neutral charge and physical flow are the perfect mix to scrub off bulky visible dirt.
Nope – hand sanitizer isn’t going to cut it. Hand sanitizer (technically a pesticide) kill germs, but doesn’t physically remove the grime from dirty hands. Soap is special because it renders insoluble particles to become water-soluble – making soap and water the powerhouse combo that cleans without harsh chemicals.
- Disposable towels
Imagine workers using the same cloth towel – or their clothes – to dry hands day after day. After taking the time to wash, hands would be soiled all over again with leftover dirt from more careless washers, on top of contaminants from the agricultural scene like manure and pesticides! Single-use towels are a must for finishing off clean.
Without easy access to indoor facilities, agricultural employers get creative to ensure their farmworkers can access their decontamination supplies within the designated quarter-mile range. Port-a-potties may be found on smaller scale farms, but across hundreds or thousands of field acres, how can you keep the washroom near the workers? Throw it on wheels of course.
Most large farms have mobile restroom and wash facilities like this one and those seen above, keeping up with workers as they move through fields.
So simple – soap, scrub, rinse – but that handwashing lesson our mom taught us is a cornerstone of public health. Everyone’s hands could use a scrub, but after long days in the fields farmworkers’ hands are exposed to extra dirt, parasites, shared machinery, and – above all – pesticides. This handy checklist from the EPA helps employers keep track of all the protections required for their workers, including fresh water, soap, and disposable towels.
During this National Handwashing Awareness Week, we celebrate the humble hand-wash and its role in public health. This week, remind someone to wash their hands. Who knew it was so easy to be a health educator?