Safe Use of Autoclaves
September 13th, 2021

New autoclave training checklist and autoclave use log sheet

OESO has created a training checklist to be used by Principal Investigators, lab managers, business managers, and others who supervise those using autoclaves. Safe autoclave operation will ensure that people do not suffer injuries and that autoclaves will continue to work for many years. 

Autoclave use is inherently hazardous due to the high pressure (15 PSI) and high temperature (121°C) needed to sterilize material.  Engineering, administrative controls and PPE reduce the risk of exposure to these hazards, but failures in these controls can lead to injury or damage such as:

  • Scalding from steam or hot liquids
  • Burns from hot metals or plastics
  • Cuts from broken glass or other sharps
  • Biological exposure due to improper packaging or inappropriate settings
  • Abrupt release of pressure and resulting injury or physical damage
  • Burning of combustible materials
  • Melted plastics
  • Spills of media or small solid items into the autoclave drain, causing clogging

In recent weeks, OESO has received multiple calls related to improper/unsafe use of autoclaves. In one case, users were handling hot items without appropriate PPE, shoes, and clothing. In at least two instances, smoke was observed coming out of autoclaves due to the presence of combustible items (cardboard or flammable chemicals). Thankfully, diligent maintenance and lab staff have prevented injuries to users and widespread damage to Duke buildings, but some of these incidents caused autoclave “downtime” due to time-consuming cleaning and repair of the equipment. 

Please download and use the checklist to review safe and proper autoclave operation with any staff or students who use autoclaves in your area. This (or a similar) log sheet should be used to track autoclave use.