Why the government should consider the regulation of hand sanitisers

Tim O'Connor, CEO, Elyptol

In this guest post, Tim O’Connor, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Australian antimicrobial hand sanitiser manufacturer Elyptol, argues that since hand sanitising is now an everyday necessity Canberra needs to enforce sanitiser regulation – so that caring industries like aged and health care can guarantee the safety of workers and clients.

In the nightmare pandemic that overtook Australia, the United States and Europe, governments and major retail chains responded by panic-buying container-loads of hand sanitiser – sourcing it wherever they could – from whomever they could.

Ignoring the obvious: they were pushing overseas sourced cheap, inferior and chemically laden products on Australians.

That had consequences. Not all sanitisers are equal. Or safe.

Gin makers pivoted with many distillers now producing hand sanitiser, proud of their entrepreneurship. Others, like the manufacturers of hand sanitiser brands imported mostly from Mexico (and since banned) into the USA, boosted their profits by substituting an even cheaper form of alcohol, methanol. One even touted its assured use of aloe. No problem with aloe. The methanol got it banned.

Methanol, or wood alcohol, can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested and can cause blindness, hospitalisation and death. The FDA counted 17 deaths from exposure to methanol-tainted sanitiser and an additional 2,000 reports of exposure or – the numbers falling as brands were banned.

We were spared that extreme situation here. But we’re not out of the woods by any means.

What concerns me is that we may yet see an increase in the number of health and aged care workers exposed to dangerous levels of dermatitis-causing chemicals from hand washing and hand sanitiser use. That can lead to personal trauma for sufferers and legal action against employers.

The issue is regulation.  Once, hand sanitisers were just a commodity. Now, and for the future, they are an essential part of everyday life.

Most of the brands sold in Australia and used by thousands of aged care staff and visitors contain the mandated amount of ethanol to kill germs. What many don’t contain is anything to prevent dermatitis.

Some time ago an occupational dermatology clinic in Melbourne performed a long-term retrospective analysis of occupational skin disease among healthcare works. Of 685 cases assessed in the clinic over 22 years, 80 per cent has developed occupational skin disease. Half of those had allergic contact dermatitis.

Even before the pandemic showed itself there was a case of a woman in Sydney who worked as a kitchenhand in a hospital for more than 30 years. She developed chronic dermatitis in both hands, leaving her in excruciating pain and forcing her to take days, and eventually months, off work.  Eventually certified by her doctors as totally unfit to work.

Her Workers Compensation insurer settled her claim for 17% whole person impairment which left the way open to claim damages against her employer. The woman eventually received more than $350,000 compensation.

Extreme case? Yes. But that was long before the sudden and necessary surge in cleaning routines in hospitals and health care facilities.

When we were founded we invested heavily in scientific knowledge to create a hand sanitiser to the highest standards in professional healthcare infection control. Botanical based formulas using naturally sourced ethanol, the healing properties of eucalyptus oil, in gels, sprays and wipes. Elyptol is used by hospitals in Victoria and ambulance service paramedics in New South Wales. You can use our product eighty times a day without causing dermatitis. Which is why the TGA and the FDA approved it.

So with the best will in the world do you really know or just blindly trust in the products your staff are using several times a day, and allowing your customers and visitors to spread on their skin?

Reading the label would be  a good start. Persuading the Federal Government to introduce legislation to regulate the hand sanitiser industry would help.

We depend on our hand sanitisers to keep the nation safe. This pandemic will eventually pass. It would be good if we all knew and could all rely on what we put on our skins by the time the next one hits.

Tim O’Connor is the founder and Chief Executive of Elyptol, which is registered with the TGA in Australia and the FDA in the United States.  tim.oconnor@elyptol.com


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