Global Handwashing Day 2022: Survey reveals concern at hygiene standards in public buildings

A YouGov survey commissioned in September by SC Johnson Professional to coincide with Global Handwashing Day has found that hygiene standards in public facilities and workplaces may not be meeting user expectations. Furthermore, it was found that most people still prefer to see visible hand hygiene provision in entrances to public spaces. The results also revealed that people are now less likely to greet with a handshake, hug or kiss than before the pandemic.

Building on the Global Handwashing Day’s theme of ‘Uniting for Universal Hand Hygiene’, SC Johnson Professional set out to investigate these opinions on key hygiene issues when away from home in workplaces and public places. They commissioned YouGov to survey a representative sample of adults in three European countries with a total of 5,357 respondents from the UK, Germany and France.

Hygiene in public spaces – are expectations being met?

48% of the survey’s respondents felt concern that hygiene standards in public buildings and workplaces were not as good as they should be, with only 12% stating that they were not at all concerned. When splitting by country, 42% of respondents in Germany expressed concern, rising to 51% in France and 52% in the UK.

Furthermore, over half of respondents stated that they still preferred to see hand sanitiser available at the entrances of public buildings and workplaces today. On average, 56% of all respondents preferred to see it available, with 50% of adults preferring this in Germany, rising to 58% in the UK and 63% in France.

Along with masks and social distancing, the appearance of hand sanitiser was one of the most visible changes seen during the pandemic; they could be found at key locations in many public buildings. It is clear from the results that many people still would like to see hand sanitiser in public spaces in a post-pandemic world. These results shine a spotlight on the need for actions to be taken by facility and building managers to help people feel more confident that hygiene standards do meet their expectations.

Meet and greet: Almost 1 in 2 people have changed their behaviour

The same survey uncovered that the pandemic has reshaped how likely people are to greet each other physically. Overall, 45% of adults are now less likely to greet someone with a handshake, hug or kiss; this finding was mirrored closely across the three countries surveyed (UK 44%, France 47%, Germany 46%).

Greetings vary widely over history and across cultures, but a common theme is proximity and physical contact[1]. These findings suggest that respondents feel ongoing caution around this proximity and contact and have changed their behaviour as a consequence. Visible reassurance of hygiene standards, for example by the presence of sanitiser at entrances to public spaces, may help people feel more confident with respect to greeting contact in the way they would have before the pandemic.

Age is a factor

The results revealed that a respondent’s age also affects their view of hygiene. Younger age groups expressed concern that hygiene standards were not as good as they should be in public buildings and workplaces (18-24, 39%), but as age increased, this perception rose to 54% of 55s and over. Not only that, but older age groups were more likely to prefer sanitiser to be present at the entrance to buildings and workplaces (63% versus 45% of 18-24 year olds) and are now less likely to greet with a hug, kiss or handshake (52% are less likely compared to 36% of 18-24 year olds).

Targeted Hygiene: taking action in public spaces

Dr John Hines, SC Johnson Professional’s Global RD&E Director, commented on the survey results: “This survey demonstrates that hygiene awareness, and expectations for availability of hygiene products, remains high. As individuals, improving hand hygiene behaviour is one easy way to reduce the risk of infections and help create healthy places. Taking simple actions such as sanitising hands when entering a public building, or after touching common surfaces, for example, can make a huge difference.

“On Global Handwashing Day, we’ll be ‘Uniting for Universal Hand Hygiene’ by helping to emphasise to those responsible for hygiene in public buildings and workplaces, the simple steps that they can take to help promote good hand hygiene practice. We urge building owners, managers and users to keep hand hygiene high on the agenda and to keep driving good hygiene behaviour.

“For example, continuing to provide hand sanitiser at entrances helps address one of the key moments of risk of transmission of germs. Our Targeted Hygiene Programme has been created to help enable building owners and managers to target all 8 key moments where this risk of germ transmission is highest and to raise awareness of how promoting good hygiene practice at these moments can help create safer spaces.”

Find out more about SC Johnson Professional’s Targeted Hygiene Programme here.

Read more about SC Johnson Professional’s Targeted Hygiene guidance here.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 5357 adults in the UK, Germany, and France. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 28th September 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been given an even weighting for each country to produce an ‘average’ value.

About SC Johnson and the Global Handwashing Partnership

SC Johnson has sat on the Global Handwashing Partnership’s steering committee since 2020. As the hand hygiene expert body within SC Johnson, SC Johnson Professional provides the Partnership with real-world expertise, experience and anecdotal evidence which help shape the Partnership’s work.

About the Global Handwashing Partnership

The Global Handwashing Partnership is a coalition of international stakeholders who work explicitly to promote handwashing with soap and recognize hand hygiene as a pillar of international development and public health. Steering Committee Members include: FHI 360, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, UNICEF, USAID, the World Bank, and World Vision.