Hand hygiene and simple aseptic measures before invasive procedures are effective in reducing rates of healthcare-associated infection. The perceived urgency of a clinical situation in the emergency department, however, may influence medical staff's compliance with good practice in infection control. The aims of this prospective, single-blinded, observational study were twofold. First, to assess doctors' compliance with good practice in hand hygiene between patient episodes and asepsis during invasive procedures in the emergency department. Second, to assess the effect of clinical urgency on compliance with good practice in hand hygiene and asepsis during invasive procedures. Good practice standards for asepsis in invasive procedures and hand hygiene between patient episodes were compiled from a literature search. Doctors' compliance with these standards was observed in two emergency departments (UK and New Zealand). Observed clinical cases were classified as immediate, urgent and non-urgent based on the triage system. There was poor compliance with good practice guidelines for asepsis in invasive procedures in both centres. Staff achieved high compliance with the guidelines in only 27% of cases in the UK and 58% of cases in New Zealand. Clinical urgency did not appear to adversely affect compliance with aseptic good practice. Hand hygiene between patient consultations was very low at 14% in the UK and 12% in New Zealand. Asepsis and hand hygiene was poor in both the UK and New Zealand emergency departments. There may be a need for some compromise in standards of asepsis in very sick patients due to the urgency of the clinical situation. Compliance in all situations especially non-urgent procedures needs to be improved.