In those cases where hand washing should be part of an established procedure, these counting dispensers seemingly offer a low-cost entry-level system. Technically these dispensers are without external wires but are not considered “wireless technology” as they cannot communicate with other devices. Since the dispenser has no means of transmitting its data contents, valuable information remains locked inside. To retrieve data, a manual reading of each counting dispenser is required. That means that at the appointed time (hourly, per shift, per day) someone must be assigned to open each such dispenser, read the count displayed, and record it. Recording might be done via traditional pen and paper or PDA. Obviously, unless strict operating procedures are defined and adhered to, it is quite possible that valuable hand-hygiene performance data might never leave the dispenser.
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Explore This IssueJune/July 2006
The manually obtained recorded information must then be transferred to a computer. It is processed either through manual manipulation of an Excel-like software package or through custom software to generate reports for management review.
Although the actual cost of these counting dispensers is low, the gathering and processing of data is highly labor intensive and subject to error. Note, too, that processing software is not included and is an additional expense. In the long run, this method of monitoring hand washing to meet compliance criteria becomes expensive, invites inaccuracies, and thus, is ineffective.
An additional item to note is that this type of system becomes very cumbersome, if not altogether impossible, when there are multiple sites and multiple locations that need to be combined into a single report for comparative analysis and corporate review.
Built inside a badge or piece of clothing, an RFID chip or tag can wirelessly communicate with other devices (e.g. a sensor at the entry to the kitchen or a soap dispenser) and can detect events such as an employee in the wrong location of the food processing plant, or a staff member who did not wash their hands. Several types of badge-based or active RFID systems have been introduced in the last 10 years. Current badge-based systems may be partially or wholly implemented using wireless technology, depending upon the vendor.
Strictly controlled environments, such as food processing plants, require this level of detailed individual employee information and warrant this invasion into personal hygiene behavior. In these cases, RFID technology appears the best solution and may even become a de facto standard for compliance monitoring in areas requiring high levels of security and enforcement.
Employees wear badges or clothing with embedded RFID tags. When someone does not comply with the system “rules,” as defined by the company, and/or possibly by government agencies, that person can be immediately identified to avert potential hazards. Identification may occur at the badge level, i.e. the badge may turn a different color permitting everyone with whom the out-of-compliance individual comes in contact to be aware of the infraction, or, more subtly, a notification may be sent to the supervisor for resolution. Alternatively, both actions may occur.
Such systems require not only badges or clothing equipped with RFID tags, but also the appropriately configured complementary devices that communicate with these tags and transmit these communications for immediate notification and data gathering. Note that systems which use their own proprietary soap or sanitizer dispensers can also disrupt the supply chain, potentially forcing the purchase of soap and sanitizer from at least two vendors (i.e. one supplier of soap/sanitizer for the badge-based system and one supplier for all other dispensers in the enterprise that are not part of the system). The best solution to this issue is a dispenser agnostic system, which avoids this problem.