Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand is Doing by Christopher Aston
While we may not have reason to believe that humans first walked upright to free their hands to perform laboratory research, we in the research community certainly use our hands for every conceivable part of our daily work. That is why it is important to avoid injuring them and to ensure they do not become vehicles for transmitting cross-contamination to fomites and infection to others. Let’s examine a series of proverbs that may or may not have been written with hand safety in mind:
According to the German proverb, “Many hands make quick work,” but when working with sharps, less may actually be more! EH&S investigates numerous needle stick accidents annually and typically finds such injuries are caused by a sharp in one hand injuring the other hand. Consider how difficult it would be to cause such an injury if you were just working with one hand! Ask yourself whether you can perform a procedure with one hand behind your back, out of the way. Then think about what device could be used to substitute for the use of your second hand; this could be an animal restraint or a pair or locking forceps, and always eliminate altogether risky procedures such as recapping of needles.
According to the Asian proverb, “When fate throws a dagger at you, there are only two ways to catch it; by the blade or by the handle.” As your colleagues transport plates of cells, electrophoresis gels or other materials around your laboratory, take note of how many times people open a door wearing gloves. Think about what might be on their gloves, what they are leaving on the door handle and how you are going to get out of the room without getting that material on your skin. Then ask yourself whether you have ever done the same thing before. Good laboratory practice dictates that gloves should be removed when moving from one room to another. Durable transport containers with lids should be employed to move materials around the laboratory, these outer containers can be cleaned between uses, allowing it to be carried with clean, bare hands, and also provide secondary containment in the event of a spill or leak. If this is totally impractical in your laboratory, consider implementing a one–hand policy, where one ungloved hand is used to open the door and the other gloved hand carries the material.
Finally, according to the Greek proverb, “One hand washes the other and both wash the face.” This could not be more true in the context of hand washing in the laboratory. Hand washing is the most effective means of infection control, so much so that the New York State clinical regulations require washing with soap and water over use of alcohol-based hand cleansers. Remember that you may have touched your wrist when removing your first glove, so pay attention to washing your wrists and the backs of your hands. Ask yourself whether you would want to touch your face after washing your hands. If not, you may want to spend a little more time at the sink.