An autoclave uses the generation of steam to create pressure inside a sealed chamber in order to sterilized equipment, materials, or waste.
Autoclaves generate steam/high heat, high pressure and potentially vapors that can be hazardous to operators. Risks include burns (e.g., hot surfaces, residual steam, and hot fluids scalds), hand and arm injuries (when closing doors), injuries due to explosions, and inhalation of hazardous vapors (when inappropriate materials are autoclaved). To avoid injury, personnel that operate autoclaves must be trained on the proper operation of the unit and the appropriate protective measures. Large autoclave units should have an exhaust vent above the autoclave door/opening.
Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for safe and proper operation specific to the model.
All operators and the responsible person must receive training prior to starting work with autoclaves. Training is the responsibility of the department/college. Training should be reviewed or refreshed anytime operation procedures or SOPs change and if there is concern or incident indicating that review is warranted.
Training must include:
- Review of the operation manual provided by the manufacturer
- The specific SOPs developed for the nature of the loads and unit type,
- Restricted materials,
- safety practices and PPE required,
- spill or incident response procedures,
- documentation/log requirements,
- proper loading and unloading,
- failure reporting,
- Out of service signage posting, and
- Injury reporting and response.
- Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including a lab coat, scrubs and/or apron; heat insulating gloves that cover all hand and forearm (when handling equipment during operation); eye protection (when unloading autoclave), closed-toe footwear.
- Do not seal containers
- Never open the door to an autoclave if there is water running out the bottom. Clogged steam lines, equipment malfunction, or plugged drains may cause a buildup of scalding water.
- Do not open the door until the pressure is zero and the temperature is at or below 121°C at the end of a cycle. Don’t stand directly in front of the door when opening the chamber.
- Do not touch autoclaved material with your bare hand until sufficient time has passed to allow it to cool.
- Avoid superheating liquids by allowing contents to sufficiently cool below the boiling point of all liquids in the autoclave. Superheating is a condition that occurs when liquids are at a temperature above their normal boiling point but do not appear to be boiling. Any disturbance of the liquid could cause some of it to violently flash to steam and spray. In situations where personnel are in a hurry to remove flasks or bottles from the autoclave, the superheated liquids may boil out of their containers or explode.