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Recently I have started in a new microbiology lab, and with a new lab come new habits. When I was working with my bacterial (liquid) culture next to the flame (Bunsen burner) wearing nitrile gloves, my colleague warned me to not wear gloves close to the flame. Personally, I never experienced any problems with them and I think that wearing them provides better sterility.

Is it more dangerous to work with gloves close to the Bunsen burner than without?

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Wearing gloves increases the risk of injury when working next to an open flame since they can melt onto your hand.

Not wearing gloves increases the risk of infection when working with pathogens.

As for sterility, standard examination gloves may be helpful but are not necessary. The gloves aren't packaged sterile, you don't use sterile technique when putting them on, and nothing you touch with them is sterile.

So, whether or not you wear gloves near a flame really depends on what you're doing and the safety requirements of your laboratory.

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new microbiology lab

What're the entry requirements for your lab? If you're working in BSL-2 or greater, the appropriate PPE ensemble is listed and required at all times while you're in there. Likewise, gloves are required whenever you're in contact with potentially infectious materials (OSHA 29CFR1910.1030). There shouldn't be leeway to decide when and when not to wear your PPE ensemble.

As bunsen burners do present a burn hazard, your work with a bunsen burner should be preceded by general lab safety training, and subject to work practice controls. It's safe to wear nitrile gloves working with an open flame, and your gloves are not readily combustible. Burns will typically result from a failure to exercise universal precaution and/or use the burner properly.

If you're working dangerously close to an open flame or with heated materials, consider controlling for injury with thermal gloves, tongs, or engineer out the burner with a biosafety cabinet.

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