Sending equipment back to your main sterile services department is always the best way to ensure the highest level of sterilization possible. If you are working at a remote location and this is not an option you should familiarize yourself with the appropriate instructions and precautions for the safe use of benchtop sterilizers. These small units should never be used to process drapes, dressings, hollow instruments, or other porous items. Most models simply aren’t equipped for the job and can’t produce the necessary vacuum pressure to remove air from the load.
There are four steps involved in creating the best possible end user experience with a benchtop steam decontamination equipment.
First, you must determine which model is best suited to your environment and the articles you will be sterilizing. If your needs are simple you can opt for a very small unit that just runs one or two cycle types. For more complex jobs you will have to invest more in your equipment to get optimal results.
Second, you absolutely must have all staff properly trained to operate the machine. This requires actual technical personnel from the distributor coming on site to provide assistance. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the manual, though. You should familiarize yourself with all aspects of the equipment before attempting operation. Mistakes can damage the equipment, fail to properly sterilize contents, and even cause serious injury to employees. Sudden temperature fluctuations can stress glass items and cause them to shatter. Burns from steam can also occur if instructions are not followed. Remember that disinfecting items before they are placed in the unit is necessary since steam must have direct contact with the implements being cleaned in order to fully sterilize them.
Third, the equipment must be periodically validated. Your sterilizer will be thoroughly tested before leaving the factory to ensure that the rigorous industry standards are met. Instructions for ongoing test protocols are always provided with the machine and validation supplies can be purchased from many manufacturers. Verifying that a load is sterile is not done by inspecting the contents themselves. Rather, the assumption of sterilization is made if the items have been exposed to adequate conditions of temperature, pressure and time within the machine. Therefore the sterilizer must be monitored on a regular basis to make sure these conditions are being met.
Fourth, maintenance should always be provided by qualified repair technicians to ensure that your machine has been returned to factory specifications. Attempting to repair a sterilizer yourself or hiring an unauthorized company may void your warranty. You don’t have to wait until your equipment breaks down – have your machine inspected periodically to catch mechanical problems early on. The manufacturer of your sterilizer can give you an idea of which parts (such as valves) may wear out over time and need to be replaced.
Reminders And Safety Tips
- Do clean and dry all items before loading them into the unit
- Do NOT process porous materials in steam sterilizers
- Do keep good records of each cycle run as well as testing and maintenance
- Do validate you sterilizer’s performance regularly
- Do perform frequent safety checks