The hands play an important role in all aspects of our life, both on the job and at home. It makes sense to take care of your hands to keep them healthy and injury-free.

The first step to proper hand care is practicing good hand hygiene. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand hygiene practices are the best way to prevent infection and illness. Following are some CDC guidelines regarding hand hygiene:

When should you wash your hands?

• Before, during and after preparing food

• Before eating food

• Before and after caring for someone who is sick

• Before and after treating a cut or wound

• After using the toilet

• After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

• After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

• After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste

• After handling pet food or pet treats

• After touching garbage

How should you wash your hands?

• Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

• Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

• Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

• Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

• Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them

What should you do if you don’t have soap and clean, running water?

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

NOTE: Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

How do you use hand sanitizers?

• Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).

• Rub your hands together.

• Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

Nail hygiene

Appropriate hand hygiene includes diligently cleaning and trimming fingernails, which may harbor dirt and germs and can contribute to the spread of some infections, such as pinworms. Fingernails should be kept short, and the undersides should be cleaned frequently with soap and water. Because of their length, longer fingernails can harbor more dirt and bacteria than short nails, thus potentially contributing to the spread of infection.

Before clipping or grooming nails, all equipment (for example, nail clippers and files) should be properly cleaned. Sterilizing equipment before use is especially important when nail tools are shared among people.

Infections of the fingernails or toenails are often characterized by swelling of the surrounding skin, pain in the surrounding area, or thickening of the nail. In some cases, these infections may be serious and need to be treated by a physician.

To help prevent the spread of germs and nail infections:

• Keep nails short and trim them often.

• Scrub the underside of nails with soap and water (or a nail brush) every time you wash your hands.

• Clean any nail grooming tools before use.

• Sterilize nail grooming tools before use.

• Avoid biting or chewing nails.

• Avoid cutting cuticles, as they act as barriers to prevent infection.

• Never rip or bite a hangnail. Instead, clip it with a clean, sanitized nail trimmer.

Use of hand lotions

Petroleum-based lotion formulations can weaken latex gloves and increase permeability. However, lotions are often recommended to ease the dryness resulting from frequent hand washing and more recently to prevent dermatitis resulting from glove use. The primary defense against infection and transmission of pathogens is healthy unbroken skin.

Frequent hand washing with soaps and antiseptic agents can cause chronic irritant contact dermatitis. Damage to the skin changes skin flora, resulting in more frequent colonization by staphylococci and gram-negative bacteria. The potential of detergents to cause skin irritation can vary considerably, but can be reduced by adding emollients.

Lotions that contain petroleum or other oil emollients should only be used at the end of the workday. If using lotions during the workday, select a water-based product. Ask the manufacturer about the interaction of their product with gloves and other materials you could come in contact with on the job.

Avoiding hand injury

In addition to wearing protective gloves, workers can take other steps to prevent injuring their hands on the job. Best Performance Systems, a company that develops and implements custom programs to reduce injury costs and improve productivity and efficiency, offers these guidelines* to eliminate hand tension and fatigue, making work easier and more productive:

• Avoid using a pinch grip. Grasp objects with as much of your hand as possible. A pinch grip using only your fingers increases stress in the hand and wrist.

• Keep the wrist in a straight or neutral position when working. You may have to move your equipment, or alter your shoulder or foot position.

• Position your feet so the legs assist with the movement when a task involves pushing, pulling or moving items sideways while grasping.

• Find more than one way to grasp when a task requires prolonged or repetitive grasping. The muscles that work while grasping with one type of grip will be resting when you use a different type of grip.

• Avoid looking down too often. Looking down frequently reduces blood flow to your arm and makes the hand and arm weak and tense. If you must look down a lot, take three-second stretch breaks two to four times per hour.

• Take stretch breaks two to four times per hour if you have hand, wrist, elbow or forearm tension, fatigue or cramps. Do the stretch that makes you feel better after you do it.

• Do strengthening exercises outside of work that simulate your job if grasping is difficult for you. This can be done with weights or rubber tubing. The proper resistance is enough to cause mild muscle fatigue after the third set of 8 repetitions, done three times per week.

*Reprinted in part with permission from “The Proper Care for Your Hands,” Best Performance Systems, For more information, email