Tips & Workarounds to Help Keep Your Brewery Team Safe

Brewing production vats

Your brewery is chock-full of confined spaces. And that means there’s ample employee risk due to working in those confined spaces.

Truthfully, we should write it Risk, with a capital R. In 2009, a welder who entered a fermentation tank to seal a crack set himself on fire when he lit his blowtorch in the space, which was oversaturated with oxygen. In 2011, a fermentation tank exploded at a Vermont brewery. (Of course, confined spaces are a risk for reasons other than air quality. In 2020 alone, 32 people died in grain entrapment incidents in the United States.)

What does your brewery need to do to help protect employees working in confined spaces?

“Step one is understanding what exactly a confined space is,” says Kristian Beall, AAI, of Beall Brewery Insurance. “Remember that a confined space is an area that has limited access, that people can enter, and that is not designed for continuous occupation.”

Among the confined spaces you’ll identify in your brewery are brite tanks, fermenters, grain bins, silos, mash tuns, kettles, yeast propagation tanks, and liquor tanks. Your team may need to enter these spaces to inspect, clean, or sanitize them.

You’ll want to create an inventory of your brewery’s confined spaces, and then categorize each according to OSHA rules. If they are “permit spaces,” you’ll need to develop a comprehensive written program explaining how and when written permits are required to gain entry. A permit space has a potentially hazardous atmosphere, the potential to engulf a worker, a tapering shape that could trap or asphyxiate a worker, and any other recognized serious hazard.

“The key to establishing brewery safety is developing policies and procedures to guide your team as they work in confined spaces,” points out Richard Beall, principal at Beall Brewery Insurance, which serves craft breweries all across the country. “They’ll need to know which are permit spaces and which aren’t, and the required processes for working in each.”

Entering a permit space, for instance, usually requires a minimum of three trained people: the person entering the space, an attendant, and someone to supervise the proceedings. The person entering the space may require breathing equipment, air monitors, and a full-body harness.

Your brewery insurance professional may be able to assist you with some safety guidelines, but in the meantime, you’ll want to consider these points as you establish (or review) your brewery’s confined space policies and procedures.

  • Do you have a written confined space plan, including recognizing and marking all confined spaces on site?
  • Have you developed procedures to test and monitor the air inside confined spaces before and during all employee entries?
  • Have you developed procedures to prevent unauthorized entries and to ensure there is an attendant outside the space at all times?
  • Do you train your workers and supervisors on safe work procedures, hazard controls, and rescue procedures?

“Policies and procedures are absolutely necessary, but they won’t do your business any good if your workers aren’t trained to follow them,” points out Kristian Beall. “Every new employee should be trained in safety procedures surrounding confined spaces—and your entire team should have regular refreshers.

“It’s far too easy to get complacent, to skip a step here or there—and to put yourself at risk.”

It’s also important to note that you can develop workarounds that allow your team to do the work necessary in confined spaces without actually entering those spaces. For instance, you can utilize a clean-in-place system to clean and sanitize vessels without entry. With the use of mirrors and flashlights, or even video cameras, your team can inspect vessels from the outside.

A safe workforce is a productive workforce, adds Richard Beall. “That’s why we created our Guide to Brewery Safety and Loss Prevention,” he says. “Brewery safety doesn’t have to be complicated, or expensive. We gathered together a lot of practical information and suggestions to help brewers keep their team safe… so they can focus on the task of brewing and serving happy customers.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.