Nurses' infection-control practice: hand decontamination, the use of gloves and sharp instruments

Int J Nurs Stud. 1996 Apr;33(2):143-60. doi: 10.1016/0020-7489(95)00048-8.


Infection is an acknowledged hospital problem. Micro-organisms are disseminated mainly via hands but there is evidence that hand decontamination, the most important means of prevention, is performed too seldom, and not always after activities likely to result in heavy contamination. Nurses themselves are exposed to risks of infection, chiefly through contact with blood and body fluids, yet it has also been reported that gloves are not always worn during contact with patients' secretions and that the handling and disposal of sharp instruments may be performed unsafely. The study reported in this paper documents nursing behaviour in relation to hand decontamination, the use of gloves and sharps, taking into consideration a number of variables which could influence practice: availability of the expertise afforded by an infection-control nurse, clinical setting, nursing workload, knowledge and the resources available to control infection. Hands were decontaminated after 28.78% of patient contacts. Hands were decontaminated after 49.85% of activities likely to result in heavy contamination. Performance was related to nursing workload and the availability of hand decontaminating agents, especially when the nurses became busy. Use of gloves when they were available also proved good, with little evidence of wasteful use. The handling and disposal of sharps were commendable for most subjects but a few grossly unsafe incidents were nevertheless witnessed, apparently not associated with any of the variables examined.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Gloves, Protective / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hand Disinfection / methods
  • Hand Disinfection / standards*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods
  • Infection Control / standards*
  • London
  • Medical Waste Disposal / methods
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital*
  • Organizational Policy
  • Universal Precautions
  • Workload
  • Wounds, Stab / prevention & control*


  • Medical Waste Disposal