Safety Instructions for Autoclaving and Potential Risks

Potential Risks using an autoclave

Laboratory safety gear

Steam autoclaves use high pressure and heat for sterilization. There are therefore potential safety risks for the user. These include:

  • Heat burns: Heat from hot sterilized items, the chamber, door or wall of the autoclave can cause burns.
  • Steam burns: Steam remaining from the sterilization cycle may cause steam burns. Steam burns are more severe than radiant heat or contact burns because steam transmits more energy.
  • Scalds: Boiling liquids can cause scalds. This can also be caused by liquids that have been spilled in the autoclave. Be careful when transporting heated autoclaved material after the autoclaving process.

Safety instructions for autoclaving

To maintain safety at all times, the operating personnel should be trained in the operation of the autoclave and wear suitable protective gear.

  • The name of the person(s) responsible for maintaining the autoclave should be listed near the installation site. This allows this person to be easily and quickly notified in the event of a problem.
  • Every user should receive training before use.
  • The documentation, including the operating instructions, should be kept near the autoclave so they are easily accessible in case they are needed.
  • Appropriate protective gear should be worn when loading and unloading the autoclave.
  • Autoclaves should be checked regularly. Records of inspection, service and maintenance, and repairs should be available on request. An annual inspection is recommended. This can be done by the authorized dealer from whom you purchased your autoclave or by a suitably trained specialist from your laboratory.

Do NOT autoclave the following:

  • Sharp objects: syringes, needles, broken glass, glass slides, Pasteur pipettes, scalpels and razor blades. These need not be sterilized before disposal. They will be removed by the person responsible for disposal and treated separately (including autoclaving or other suitable form of decontamination)
  • Hazardous chemicals: Do not autoclave flammable, reactive, corrosive, toxic or radioactive materials. Do not autoclave bleach or nitrocellulose (flammable, explosive). These materials will be disposed of by security personnel.
  • Pathological waste: Animal or human pulp. These are usually incinerated.
  • Mixed waste: Mixtures of biological pulp, chemicals and/or radioactive material. These materials are also disposed of by security personnel.
  • Biotoxins: These are resistant to sterilization. This may also include prions. The security personnel will ensure the disposal of these substances.

Protective clothing and equipment

Wear protective clothing and equipment during autoclaving to avoid injuries from burns and scalds.

  • Long, heat-insulated gloves covering hands and forearms
  • Laboratory coat to protect the whole body
  • Plastic goggles to protect the eyes
  • Closed shoes to protect your toes and feet from burns. Do not wear sandals!

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