One change in the management of schools has been the need to supply hand sanitisers in classrooms and between lessons to halt the spread of germs.
However, in schools in particular, some hand sanitiser products create new risks for pupils and staff. Understanding the differences between products on the market and their associated risks is crucial.
As part of its response to the pandemic the Government made regular hand hygiene an important part of the UK’s defence against Covid-19.
Since then, there has been a huge shift in demand for the product. Consumers and businesses alike were buying volumes at a rate never previously seen before.
However, the sector now faces a new challenge because of the growth in demand. New entrants to the market have cut corners and created products that sidestep necessary testing or protocol required to ensure they meet the high hygiene standards the public needs in 2021.
Effective and compliant biocidal products require months of continuous and rigorous development and testing before they are released to market.
This isn’t just developing the antimicrobial technology and finalising formulas. The chosen packaging, the product’s stability within it and what information we put on labelling all must be controlled and compliant with several different regulations in the UK.
This past year, we’ve seen some in the market regularly bypass these steps in a rush to get products into consumers’ hands. Consumer organisation Which? investigated and reported that many alcohol gels on the market didn’t have the requisite formula to be effective at killing bacteria and viruses, despite making a claim of greater than 60 per cent alcohol concentration on pack. The significant issues that this can cause during a pandemic is obvious.
The risks of buying poorly-made alcohol hand gels have already started to gain media attention. In October 2020, authorities in the Republic of Ireland had to recall more than 50 products, including hand sanitisers which contained harmful methanol instead of ethanol. Ingestion of methanol in even small amounts can cause irreversible injury to the nervous system, blindness or even death.
In schools, the risk of using alcohol hand gels goes further still. Hand sanitiser products that contain the requisite amount of ethanol are twice the strength of whisky and as a result can be hugely dangerous if ingested. Meanwhile, the flammability of the products can also create risks. Even small static shocks are enough to ignite hand gel on hands.
Over time, alcohol’s damaging effects on the skin have been shown to actually reduce compliance. In a study completed by Byotrol, a staggering 47 per cent of UK adults experienced some skin irritation from alcohol hand sanitisers since March 2020.
Alternative products on the market that are alcohol-free are as effective as alcohol-based hand gels but are often water based and therefore non-flammable. Some use Quaternary Ammonium Compounds as active ingredients such as Benzalkonium Chloride (BAC) or Didecyldimethylammonium chloride (DDAC) and some use Chlorhexidine, which is used in surgical scrubs.
Despite a wealth of alcohol-free sanitisers that are kinder to skin, many people still rely on alcohol-based hand sanitisers under the assumption that it is the alcohol that makes them effective. The effectiveness of these products that contain over 60 per cent alcohol is proven but the same can be said for many alcohol-free products, which are kinder on skin too.
For schools, finding a product that you can rely on means doing research, looking at alternatives to gels that may be posing risks, and, crucially, working with your supplier to understand how the product has been tested. You should ask manufactures for a summary of the test data available for the product as well as which UK and EU regulations the product complies with.
Huw Evans is R&D Director at antimicrobial technology specialist Byotrol