Hand Washing – Best Practice Guidelines

The Department’s Student Health Care policy requires Principals to develop and implement school procedures and practices to promote effective hygiene and reduce the spread of infection.  Guidelines in the policy state that these procedures and practices should include the provision of products, facilities and explicit instructions for effective hand washing.

Hand washing is an important public health measure for reducing the impact of some communicable diseases such as influenza and can also reduce the risk of exposure to common allergens such as peanuts or eggs for those in the school community who are anaphylactic.

Schools are expected to instruct students to wash their hands:

  • immediately after visiting the toilet
  • before preparing food
  • before and after eating food
  • after being exposed to respiratory or other body fluids e.g. coughing or blowing their nose
  • after playing sport
  • at any other time when the hands are soiled

Soap or another cleansing agent must be provided in all schools and students should be given developmentally appropriate instruction for effective hand washing. The Department of Health recommends the following steps:

  • Wet hands, preferably with warm water.
  • Apply hand washing agent e.g. soap, liquid soap.
  • Lather the hands and fingers for at least 15 seconds.
  • Rinse hands under running water.
  • Where possible, taps in public toilets should be turned off using a paper towel to avoid possible re-contamination of hands.
  • Alternatively, hands can be cleaned using alcohol based products (gels, rinses, foams) containing an emollient that does not require the use of water.

Head Lice

Identification of children with head lice is essential to prevent person-to-person spread of head lice. Head lice are spread from direct head-to-head contact with another person who has head lice. They are unable to jump or fly.  The following outlines the Department of Education’s position on this matter.


Under Section 27 of the School Education Act 1999, a principal may exclude a child with head lice from school until treatment has commenced. Students must be treated with sensitivity if head lice are found. The Department of Health advises that students do not necessarily need to be excluded from class activities until the end of the school day. Students may be given tasks which do not involve close group work and remain at school for the remainder of the day. The principal, however, does have authority to exercise discretion and withdraw a student from school programs at any time.

Examining Students’ Heads for Head Lice

Under Part 3, Division 2, r 29, of the Education Regulations 2000, Head lice Inspections, the principal of a government (public) school may authorise a member of the teaching staff or another officer at the school to examine the head of any student for the purpose of ascertaining whether head lice are present. Community Health staff (school nurses) are also authorised to undertake examinations.

If it is agreed by the school community that members of the parent community are to examine the head of students at school to ascertain whether head lice are present, all members of the parent community must be informed of this strategy. Parents must also be informed of their right to not give permission for another parent to examine their child’s head. In these circumstances the principal or an authorised member of staff may perform an examination as required.

Responding to an Outbreak of Head Lice

If head lice are found, then the parents of all students in the class should be informed and requested to examine and treat their children if required. Parents must be advised that head lice elimination requires at least 10 days of follow up treatment with daily removal of head lice. The Department of Health advises that a few remaining eggs are not a reason for continued exclusion. However, parents should be advised that treatment must continue until all eggs and hatchlings have been removed.

For more detailed information please see the Communicable disease guidelines 2017, published by the  Government of Western Australia, Department of Health.

Communicable disease guidelines