Not just clean - government clean

February 21, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

In case you do not know how to wash your hands, the government is here to help.

But first, let me say that I love writing columns that do not require me to leave the newsroom. And I love this one even more, because I didn't have to leave the men's room.

There, I saw a helpful poster from the (love the name) Maryland State Employee Risk Management Administration titled, "Get hot and soapy." Further down, complete with helpful, hand-shaped graphics, are the seven, count 'em seven, government-endorsed steps to proper hand washing.

It's a fascinating read:

1. Turn on water to a comfortable temperature (not scalding) and wet hands and wrists.

So far so good. I congratulate the State of Maryland for recognizing the need to turn on the faucet when you're washing your hands. Too many of our young people today want a "quick fix" or a "shortcut" to get around the work that needs to be done. But I've been around the block, and I'm here to tell you, if you want to wash your hands you have to turn on the water. Good job Maryland, for telling it like it is.


2. Apply a generous portion of liquid soap.

I don't want to appear negative, but I believe a little more thought and research could have gone into this one. Apply soap. But where? A good lawyer could drive a truck through this loophole.

3. Generate a heavy lather and wash well for approx. 15 seconds. Clean between fingernails, nail beds, under fingernails and backs of hands.

Between fingernails? I suppose this must be written for the new hinged-fingernail species of human being we've been hearing so much about. Or maybe it's for chicks with artificial nails. I'm also not sure what a nail bed is, although I think they may have been used during the Spanish Inquisition. The abbreviation of "approximately" is curious. If you're already in for a novella-length dissertation on hand washing, seems as if you might want to go ahead and throw caution to the wind and spell out the whole word.

4. Rinse well under running water, keeping hands low to the sink to prevent splashing.

This lesson in fluid dynamics would be more convincing if it weren't for the fact that the farther water falls, the MORE it splashes. I think the authors should have spent additional time in the lab.

5. Hold hands so that water flows from the wrists to fingertips.

I might have been tempted to group this one in under Subsection 4 as it pertains to rinsing. Unless you're supposed to rinse twice. A parallel could be found in Smokey Bear's campfire-extinguishing instructions to douse with water, stir the ashes and douse again.

6. Dry hands completely with clean paper towels.

Is the water still running as you dry your hands? Al Gore isn't going to like it. Fearing that Maryland's right hand didn't know what its left hand was doing, so to speak, I went to the Maryland Department of the Environment Web site and sure enough, right there under tips for water conservation is the notation: "Do not let the faucet flow while brushing your teeth or shaving." I can't imagine the MDE would cotton to the frittering away of gallons of water while you are taking the time to "completely" dry off.

7. Use the paper towel to turn off the faucet so your hands remain clean.

OK, now they're going a bit Howard Hughes-germ freakout on us. The state is dangerously close to telling us to wear Kleenex boxes on our feet and breathe through a Listerine-soaked rag. And what if you don't have paper towels? What if the bathroom employs a hand blow drier? What do you turn off the faucet with then, your foot? Another employee?

I guess it's curtains for you. Of course if you're that paranoid, you could forget hand washing altogether and just go back to your desk and use a disinfectant hand wipe - but I hate to think how the Maryland State Employee Risk Management Administration would wile away the hours if everyone were to do that.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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