The modern research lab is filled with equipment helping researchers to harvest, chop, boil, homogenize, and crystallize materials of all types. Keeping track of the maintenance and safety of lab equipment used in performing these tasks can be a challenge for laboratory managers. One piece of equipment deserving special attention when it comes to ensuring the safety of laboratory employees is the centrifuge.
The laboratory centrifuge, an instrument designed to spin and separate liquids at high speeds, has come a long way from the days of the older models, which required the units to be spun by hand. New and updated models now allow researchers many options for spinning and separating materials. Nevertheless, without proper preventive maintenance and good laboratory procedures, the centrifuge can become a safety hazard to laboratory workers. Improper use can potentially expose lab workers to hazardous materials as well as severely damage a costly piece of equipment. The risk of your centrifuge becoming a safety hazard can be mitigated through proper preventive maintenance and strict adherence to manufacturer procedures and your internal laboratory safety procedures.
The heart and soul of any centrifuge is its rotor (the component of the centrifuge that contains and spins the material). This part will eventually wear down after continuous use. A routine visual check of your rotor is necessary to detect any type of rotor fatigue (cracks, bulges, or corrosion) that can lead to the eventual failure of the rotor and significant damage to your centrifuge. One way to ensure that all the moving parts in your unit remain at optimal performance is preventive maintenance (pm). Recommended by nearly all centrifuge manufacturers, pm may include a detailed cleaning, lubrication, and calibration of your unit.
No big deal right? Well, before you brush this recommendation off completely, keep in mind that a properly functioning centrifuge will provide your researchers with consistent and reliable performance and accurate results, and drastically reduce your chances of accident and/or costly repair. In addition to having your centrifuge units on a routine pm schedule, it’s important to have internal laboratory policies in place to help ensure that all employees are using the same procedures for centrifuge safety. These policies can include the following.
Centrifuge use log
A good practice for tracking the amount of time your centrifuge and rotors are accruing is the use of a centrifuge use log. This log can help researchers and lab managers balance the amount of time the rotors are being used as well as provide data on the wear and tear each rotor is receiving. The log can also be used to track the cleaning schedule of the equipment.
Procedure for cleaning rotors
One way to help extend the life of your rotors is to adopt policies to ensure they are cleaned and/or rinsed after a prescribed amount of time or at the end of each day. Periodic and scheduled cleaning of rotors can help to keep them free of dirt and other particles or debris that could lead to damage and future accidents. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific information on how your centrifuge should be cleaned.
Procedure for handling biological spills in the centrifuge
Thermo Sorvall WX80 Ultracentrifuge
Even with the best policies and procedures in place, accidents can still happen on occasion. In the event of a biological spill inside the centrifuge, employees should have a standardized procedure for minimizing aerosol exposures, decontaminating the spill, cleaning the area with an approved disinfectant, and properly removing potentially contaminated waste. Lab workers, for example, should be trained on procedures to allow aerosols to settle for at least 30 minutes prior to cleaning any infectious material that has been released into the centrifuge. Ensuring that employees follow standard company procedures for a safe spill response will reduce the chance of causing another incident while trying to clean the spill.
In summary, there are many things involved in properly maintaining a laboratory centrifuge besides loading and spinning. Managing the preventive maintenance and safety of the centrifuges at your facility will help ensure the accuracy of your data, help extend the life of your centrifuges, and improve the safety culture within your lab.