What is one of the most common causes of anecdotal injury reports in breweries? —— The production and use of carbon dioxide.
Most people do not associate pressure with the craft brewery industry, except for the pressure of producing excellent beer. However, pressure plays a significant role in a functioning brewery and poses many dangers to the staff.
Although incidents resulting in injury or death of brewery staff are rare, they do occur. For example, in 2004, an employee at a Southern California brewery was cleaning beer kegs with boiling water from a hose connected to a hot water tank. One keg had not been properly purged to release internal pressure, so when the gate valve was opened, the pressurized beer keg caused the boiling water in the tank to overflow and spill onto the employee, resulting in second-degree burns to his legs, back, and arms. He had to be hospitalized for 10 days.
In 2012, a worker at a New England craft brewery was filling a plastic keg with compressed air to clean it, but the keg exploded, fatally injuring him.
CO2 is used in dispensing systems and is also produced during beer fermentation. In enclosed areas, it displaces oxygen, which can lead to dizziness, loss of consciousness, and even death if it accumulates.
Carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless, and heavier than air, so higher concentrations will be closer to the ground. Areas that may have high levels of carbon dioxide include fermentation tanks, brite tanks, confined spaces, walk-in coolers, and the quality lab.
What else can be done to ensure the safety of your brewery team?
Create a safety culture within the brewery by setting a good example of proper equipment usage and by wearing personal protective equipment. Develop a safety handbook and ensure that the staff is familiar with its contents and follows the guidelines.
Ensure that the staff receives thorough training and provide refresher training sessions regularly. When hiring new staff, establish an immediate training schedule to get them up to speed.
Regularly conduct maintenance checks on all tanks, lines, and other equipment. Periodically check tank pressures.
Clearly label cylinders used in the brewery to indicate whether they are empty or full.
Secure cylinders to fixed objects using chains or nylon webbing, and keep high-pressure gas lines out of the way.
Check if your insurance policy provides sufficient coverage for accidents that may occur, but more importantly, strive to prevent accidents from happening.
You may also consider installing monitors and alarms in areas of your brewery that have the potential for higher CO2 concentrations. Encourage the staff to use portable gas detectors when entering confined spaces. Ensure that alarms are inspected and tested according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, as these tools can only keep your team safe if they are functioning properly.
Carbon dioxide is an essential part of the brewing process, created during fermentation and later used for carbonating the beer. However, it is crucial to establish and follow proper safety protocols to ensure that your brewery’s CO2 does not have any unintended consequences and to keep your team safe.