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Autoclave use can pose physical hazards (e.g. heat, steam and pressure) and biological hazards (e.g. improperly autoclaved infectious materials). This fact sheet provides basic guidance on the safe operation of autoclaves.
The PI/Supervisor for each laboratory shall ensure personnel are provided safety training before operating an autoclave. All training must be documented and the records maintained in the lab with other safety training certificates.
At a minimum, training must cover the safety guidance provided in this fact sheet as well as the operating instructions in the user manual for the specific model of autoclave.
GENERAL AUTOCLAVE SAFETY PRACTICES
Do not autoclave items containing corrosives, solvents, volatiles or radioactive materials.
Prior to loading
1. Before using the autoclave, check inside the autoclave chamber for any items left by previous users that could pose a hazard.
2. Ensure that the drain strainer is clean before loading the autoclave.
3. Ensure that the door gaskets have not deteriorated, but are still intact and pliable.
Loading the Autoclave
1. Load the autoclave as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. DO NOT overload the autoclave.
2. Individual glassware pieces should be placed in a heat resistant plastic tray on a shelf or rack, and never placed directly on the autoclave chamber bottom or floor.
3. Make sure that the door of the autoclave is fully closed and latched and ensure that the correct cycle for the items being autoclaved has been selected before starting the cycle.
Opening the Autoclave
1. Wear the proper PPE, including:
l Heat resistant gloves and arm sleeves
l Rubber apron– If no hot liquids are involved, a lab coat is sufficient
l Eye protection
l Faceshield (when hot liquids are handled)
l Closed-toe shoes If handling sharps (e.g. broken glass), use tongs or ensure gloves are cut-resistant.
2. Open the door slowly. Keep your head, face and hands away from the opening.
3. Allow materials inside the autoclave to cool for at least 10 minutes with the door open before unloading the autoclave. Removing contents too soon may cause heat stress and fracturing of materials, especially glass.
Autoclave operators shall ensure that each autoclave is monitored as follows:
Heat Sensitive Tape Monitoring – Operators shall use heat sensitive sterilization indicator tape for each load to indicate that the load has undergone an effective steam sterilization process.
Note that this tape only indicates that the proper temperature for the cycle has been reached, but does not indicate that it was heated at the proper pressure or for the appropriate length of time.
Ensure that the heat sensitive tape used does not contain a lead based indicator, as this type of tape must be collected and managed as hazardous waste.
INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE
Manufacturer-recommended periodic inspection and preventive maintenance shall be conducted and recordkeeping shall be maintained.
As soon as conditions permit, report the incident to your supervisor and call the Occupational Health Center for necessary injury follow-up.