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Laboratory Safety

Centrifuge Explosions

Revised March 14, 2001

Recently there have been two centrifuge explosions in university laboratories, one at the University of Ottawa, the second one at Cornell University. Both incidents involved Beckmann L2 series ultracentrifuges and the causes of the accidents were either using an incorrect rotor or using a rotor that should have been put out of service. There was extensive damage to the laboratories and it was fortunate that there were no serious injuries.

Rotors on high-speed centrifuge and ultracentrifuge units are subjected to powerful mechanical stresses that can result in rotor failure. In addition, improper loading and balancing of rotors can cause the rotors to break loose while spinning. Everyone using this type of equipment needs to know the proper operating procedures for the specific unit being operated, including how to select, load, balance and clean the rotor. These procedures are explained in the unit's operating manual. Laboratory supervisors must see to it that operators of this type of equipment are properly trained in the selection, care and use of rotors. This safety notice outlines some basic precautions to be taken when operating and inspecting centrifuge rotors. Over the next few months, DOHS will be conducting random centrifuge inspections to ensure that these procedures are being followed.

General Safety Procedures:
All centrifuges should have a maintenance log that details the number of runs, age of the rotor, the rotation speed per run and dates of servicing (see attached sample log form).
If the rotor is dropped it should be taken out of service immediately and sent to the supplier for examination.
The centrifuge bowl should be dry and the spindle clean. Do not overfill the centrifuge tubes.
The rotor should be seated correctly and the tubes should be inserted so that there is a balance in the rotor.
Do not attempt to open the centrifuge door until the rotor stops. Every centrifuge must have a locking device to prevent this.

Check O rings and grease the seals weekly with vacuum grease.

Do not use harsh detergents to clean the rotors (especially aluminum rotors). Use a mild detergent and rinse with de-ionized water.

All Beckmann ultracentrifuge rotors must be take out of service after either 10 years or after manufacturer's specified number of runs. Sorvall rotors have similar warranties. Check with your technical service representatives regarding rotor retirement.

All rotors should be inspected every time before use.
The cone area is highly stressed during rotation and should be checked for cracks.
If there are gouges in the rotor body, the rotor should be serviced. If there are light scratches, they should be checked for corrosion.

Look for corrosion or cracks in the tube cavity.

Dual row rotors are highly stressed and any damage to these rotors cannot usually be repaired.

Vertical rotors - the sealing cap should be checked for thread wear.

Swinging bucket rotors - any damage to the bucket seat pins cannot be repaired.

Centrifuge Usage Log: Centrifuge Usage Log (PDF) (PDF).
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