Wearing Gloves is NOT a substitute for handwashing

Due to the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, a lot of people have been introduced to personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to protect themselves from germs, and this included wearing gloves.

There is however a misconception when it comes to wearing gloves and the protection these gloves actually give when it comes to general public. Below are a few notes explain when and how the gloves should be worn to give maximum protection.

During the recent pandemic we have all noticed that many people are wearing gloves during their general day-to-day activities such as shopping “just in case”. Whilst this may have been seen as a prudent thing to do, people’s full understanding of the correct procedures for wearing and removing PPE such as gloves might have in fact added to the spread of the virus by spreading contamination to everything they touched. Unfortunately, due to the surge in the general public wanting to wear gloves anywhere and everywhere as well as seeing many people who really do not need gloves as part of their daily job ‘stacking up’ on gloves, we have seen a shortage of gloves for a while for the front-line workers. This is because as stated above there is a lot of misconception as to whether gloves offer an extra layer of protection, especially when it comes to a virus such as Covid-19.

The important thing to remember is that there must be an understanding that gloves carry the virus the same way as the hands and wearing gloves ‘just in case’ can give people a false sense of security.

It is true that professionals such as health care workers wear gloves to keep themselves and patients safe while providing care, however it is important to highlight that those are professionals who are trained and understand how to wear the PPE appropriately and likewise how to remove the PPE safely. When professionals such as healthcare workers, nursery workers, etc wear gloves as part of their job, they remove gloves immediately after touching a patient, clean their hands properly before putting new gloves on and caring for another patient.

Wearing gloves and hand hygiene go hand in hand. It is important to highlight that if the gloves are not removed immediately after touching one item or person, the gloves are in fact contaminated and the germs will be spread around further. This is because a person wearing gloves can be mislead in thinking that they are ok to touch multiple items without the need to worry about germs. If the person wearing the gloves is not removing the gloves, cleaning the hands and putting on new ones every time they touch something (as the scenario mentioned earlier where people are wearing gloves for shopping), then they are not improving their safety nor the safety of the people around them.

In order to protect yourself when conducting general day-to-day activities such as shopping, it is important that you clean your shopping trolley with antibacterial wipes or antibacterial spray (during the pandemic this has been made available at the entrance of every shop or supermarket); only touch the items you will purchase; take minimal personal belongings with you in the store; avoid touching your face after touching any items; refrain from touching your mobile phone or keys, etc whilst in the store and after touching any items; once the items purchased have been placed in your shopping bag and before touching any other personal belongings ensure you sanitize your hands. Cleaning your hands with hand sanitizer helps you get rid of germs ‘on the go’, this however should not replace a proper hand washing with soap and water at your earliest opportunity or as soon as you return home.

When to wear gloves

Gloves should be worn if you are a healthcare worker and care for patients in order to keep them and yourself safe, in accordance to the risk assessment of the task, or when you come into contact with blood, bodily fluid or other potentially infectious materials or contaminated surfaces.

For the general public, wearing gloves is not necessary in the majority of situations. The key times when gloves should be worn are when a person is cleaning and using chemicals or caring for someone that is sick or as mentioned above when a person comes in contact with blood, bodily fluids or other potential infectious materials and substances that could put their health and safety at risk. The most important thing is the importance of ensuring good hand hygiene at all times along with regular and thorough cleaning of your belongings.

When and how to remove gloves safely

Removing the gloves is as important as knowing when and how to wear them in order to keep yourself and others safe. A person wearing gloves must ensure they do not touch uncontaminated items with contaminated gloves and keep their hands away from their face. Following the removal of the gloves the correct procedure for hand washing and sanitizing should be followed. You must ensure that immediately after removing the gloves you place them into the correct rubbish bin, for example gloves that have been contaminated with blood or bodily fluids should be disposed of safely in the allocated bin.

As mentioned above the use of gloves does not replace the need for cleaning and washing the hands. Hand hygiene is in fact a critical step in the safe use of personal protective equipment and wearing gloves is perceived as a significant risk factor for poor hand hygiene compliance and germ transmission, therefore it is advised against unless used by a professional as part of the job and in line with the correct procedures for PPE use.

Never re-use disposable gloves!

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have put together a glove pyramid which helps to aid decision making on when to wear and not wear gloves, please see included below.

. Source: WHO Glove use information leaflet