New survey results released by the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) this week offer workers sound advice when at the workplace - wash up!

The 2001 SDA National Cleaning Survey reveals that, while many people use common-sense cleaning practices at home to defend against harmful germs, the workplace is often a weak link in the fight to prevent the contraction and spread of infectious diseases.

The survey reveals that 40 percent of American workers neither wash their hands often enough nor long enough. In addition, the survey found that most employers (58 percent) don't encourage hand washing in the workplace.

Hand washing is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of the most important means of preventing germs from spreading. Lost productivity in the workplace can add up to $15 billion to the already high annual cost of Americans battling colds and flu.

Proper hand washing is the "first line of defense" against germs in the workplace, says Nancy Bock, SDA's director of consumer affairs. SDA suggests washing about five times a day, and washing thoroughly with soap and water for at least 15 seconds.

Who are the biggest hand washing offenders, according to the survey: 65 percent of maintenance and construction workers and 47 percent of office and customer service workers wash their hands less than five times a day, and about half do it for only ten seconds. Conversely, medical and food service workers are more diligent about hand hygiene: 86 percent of medical employees and 68 percent of food service employees wash their hands seven or more times a day and most do it for 15 seconds or more.

The survey suggests there is a direct correlation between encouragement and compliance. In businesses that post hand washing reminders, 72 percent of employees wash their hands five or more times a day. In fact, 38 percent wash their hands more than 10 times a day.