The skin is the largest organ of the body, but it's often overlooked in workplace health and safety.

Your skin deserves more attention. It acts as a barrier that shields you against harmful invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins. The average adult has over eight pounds of it and if it's in a healthy condition and uninjured, pathogens cannot penetrate it.

As incredible as the skin is on its own, it can often use a little help, especially during cold and flu season. Here are some tips for protecting and strengthening your first line of defense.

Increase Your Defenses

Your hands encounter germs everywhere they go. Whether you're opening a door, turning on a faucet, or operating heavy equipment, your hands pick up and transfer germs any time they touch a surface.

The University of Arizona conducted a study focused on one flu-contaminated employee. The researchers tracked how quickly the employee's flu virus would spread throughout their workplace. The results are enough to give anyone pause: within four hours, 50 percent of surfaces and other employees were contaminated.

The average workplace is full of perfect breeding grounds for potential germ invasions. These touch-heavy surfaces include:

  • Phones
  • Keyboards
  • Door knobs
  • Hand rails
  • Vending machines

Washing these surfaces incessantly just isn't realistic. By far the simplest solution to stop the spread of germs in the workplace is to wash your hands frequently.

Make Hand Hygiene a Breeze

The problem is that few workers actually wash their hands often enough, and even fewer follow proper hand washing protocols. Residual bacteria can grow and multiply in less than 20 minutes, leaving your hands with the same number of bacteria it had prior to washing. Yet how many people in your workplace actually clean their hands that frequently?

The easiest way to encourage good hand hygiene and prevent the spread of pathogens is to make antibacterial hand sanitizers and waterless cleaners easily accessible.

When purchasing sanitizers, look for an effective solution. Highly effective cleaners will effectively kill 99.99% of germs, including H1N1 (Swine Flu) and MRSA. For the workplace, a product that dries out quickly and doesn't leave any sticky or soapy residue is ideal.

Keeping sanitizer handy is a very small, simple step, but it's all it takes to dramatically reduce the prevalence of cold and viruses in the workplace.

Maximize Your Protection

Your skin has many layers and they all work together to create an effective barrier against the elements. Together, these layers help regulate body temperature, control moisture loss, maintain the balance of fluids, and prevent pathogens from entering.

Your skin's natural defenses become weakened and impaired by UV exposure, weather changes, and exposure to chemicals. The kinds of substances used in workplace settings tend to overtax the skin’s natural neutralizing capability, impair its ability to hold moisture, and weaken its effectiveness as a protective shield.

In those cases, it can help to give your skin an added layer of protection. Skin sealants can act as an artificial protective layer on the skin. It applies clearly and protects the skin's natural function from substances such as latex, grease, adhesives, and solvents.

If your hands go through a lot during a typical workday, you may also consider using a reparative hand lotion to deal with the resulting skin damage. Lotions formulated with aloe, vitamin A, and vitamin E can promote the skin's healing and prevent further damage.

One of the most neglected areas of the skin are the lips. If you work outdoors, you know the importance of wearing sunscreen to protect yourself from the harmful effects of sun exposure. But you may not realize that your lips need the same kind of protection. When applying sunscreen, be sure to include your lips. You can also look for lip balms designed to provide UV protection for easier and more convenient application.

Conclusion

Your skin is like your body's armor, so it's important to take proper care of it, especially in harsh working environments. With the judicious application of the right products, you can keep your skin's defenses strong and prevent it from spreading germs.