Giving the tap the elbow? An observational study.
BACKGROUND: Handwashing is viewed as the most important barrier to cross-infection. Incorrect use of clinical handwash basins may lead to cross-infection either from contaminated water or due to failure to decontaminate hands. Elbow-operated taps used correctly prevent recontamination of hands during operation. Many elbow-operated taps are installed incorrectly, with the handle flush with the back panel, making it difficult to open using the elbow. AIM: To determine the effect of altering the angle of the handle of elbow-operated taps on handwashing technique. METHODS: An observational study was conducted using two rooms; in one the handles of the elbow-operated taps were flush with the inspection panel behind, and in the other they were set at 35°. FINDINGS: Thirty-five staff members washed their hands in both rooms. Hands were used to turn on the taps in 97% of instances. In 57% of washes hands were recontaminated when used to turn the tap off. Only six individuals consistently used their elbows to turn outlets off. Surprisingly, more individuals used their elbows to operate taps whose handles were flush with the inspection panel behind. CONCLUSION: Greater emphasis needs to be placed on correct use of elbow-operated outlets. The decision to use elbow- or sensor-operated outlets is not clear-cut, as each has pros and cons. There is much room for improvement in design and standardization of handwash basins. Given the importance of handwashing it is surprising that these gaps exist.