Autoclave Safety

Written by aruna murthy anaparti
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Autoclave Safety
Heat-resistant gloves (the leather glove image by Zbigniew Nowak from Fotolia.com)

Autoclave training is a must for any person operating or handling an autoclave, a device that sterilises equipment and supplies by using high-pressure steam. Misuse of the autoclave or improper handling procedures can be very hazardous. Not only are the autoclave repair costs high, but misuse can also endanger human lives because the autoclave operates under high pressure and high temperature conditions. Therefore, no user must be allowed to use an autoclave without prior practical training on autoclave safety from an experienced and knowledgeable person.

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Arrangement of Load

Always load the autoclave according to the recommendations specified by the manufacturer in the autoclave manual. Ensure that the load is loosely arranged inside the autoclave to allow free steam circulation. Stuffing or closely packing the load will not allow steam to circulate freely in the chamber. As a result, steam will not be able to penetrate all substances placed in the autoclave and complete sterilisation cannot be achieved.

Packing of Liquids

Always use borosilicate or tempered soda-lime glass when you want to autoclave liquid substances such as media or other infectious wastes. The lids of glass containers should be made of either glass or of autoclave-grade plastic so that they do not melt because of high temperatures as it may lead to serious accidents and hazards. The lid should be closed lightly to prevent breakage of glassware due to sudden pressure and temperature shocks. It is also advisable to provide a second layer of protection for liquid loads to prevent spills.

Never Force the Autoclave Door Open

At the end of the sterilisation cycle, wait for the autoclave to cool down sufficiently. Check the pressure gauge and wait until the pressure comes down to normal before you try to open the autoclave door. If there is any trace of resistance, stop immediately. Never force the autoclave door open as it can be extremely dangerous. The pressure difference may result in gushing out of hot liquids or the temperature difference may cause cracking of glassware.

Personal Protection

Apart from learning the correct handling procedures during autoclave training, wear personal protection gear such as lab coat, a pair of heat-resistant gloves, shoes and eyeglasses when operating an autoclave. Every autoclave safety emphasises on the importance of using personal protection gear when operating an autoclave. Do not stand close to the autoclave as steam may escape through all sides of the door; it could scald your skin.

Autoclave Maintenance

Unless the autoclave is regularly maintained, it will not function properly. Ensure that the door gasket is in perfect condition. If it is damaged, replace it with a new one. Check the valves and the vent to ensure they are not clogged. It is also important to clean the drain filter each time, before loading the autoclave, to ensure unhindered steam circulation in the autoclave chamber. Ensure that the door closes tightly and that there are no distortions in the door as the steam can leak out from those gaps.

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