CO2 health and safety programs are a necessary craft brewery component.
In general industry, the health hazards associated with CO2 are well known and documented. After visiting craft breweries, unfortunately, in most cases the dangers of CO2 are either unknown or just ignored. Because of this, people continue to die needlessly in tragic and totally avoidable accidents in breweries throughout the world.
CO2 tanks are often placed in cramped, out-of-the way spaces that would easily pose a place for leaks to go undetected.
CO2 tanks are often placed in storage rooms and enclosed spaces where a leak could become a disaster.
Properties and Effects of CO2
CO2 is a colorless, odorless byproduct of the fermentation process, is extremely hazardous, and can kill in one of two ways: either by displacing oxygen or as a toxin. Exposure to levels as little as 0.5% volume CO2 is a serious toxic health hazard and concentrations greater than 10% volume CO2 can be fatal.
CO2 is heaver than air and collects at the bottom of tanks, cellars, confined spaces, containers, low lying areas and can even spill out of fermenting tanks and sink to the brewery floor, where it forms deadly, invisible pockets. Because CO2 is completely odorless and colorless, there is no physical indication or warning or danger until it is usually too late.
Wort tanks, fermentation tanks, beer mixing tanks, silos, walk-in coolers, and other identified spaces are easily accessible - it is rare for them to be fitted with safety interlocks. For this very reason, rigorous safety procedures should be in place and always followed. Employers are responsible for assessing the risks these areas pose to their employees and undertaking measures to eliminate them. Having the required written Respiratory Protection, Lockout-Tagout and Confined Space entry programs and procedures along with proper training is critical to manage the dangers.
Walk-in coolers can be a death trap to unsuspecting brewery workers.
Both portable and fixed CO2 detectors, alarms, and ventilation fans can be used in CO2 monitoring in breweries. Fixed systems typically comprise one or more detector sensors connected to a separate main control panel. In a sensor reads a dangerous CO2 level, extractor fans are automatically triggered and sirens or visual beacons can also be activated to warn workers to vacate the area. This sort of installation is suited to larger spaces like cellars and storage areas.
Portable compact units are required in confined space work where fixed detectors cannot be installed. The portable units should be easy to use and proper training should take place prior to issuing an employee a portable gas detector. Combining one or more sensors with powerful audible and visual signs to warn of high CO2 concentration are not missed.
Portable gas detectors and ventilation fans are part of the arsenal in fighting atmospheric hazards in the workplace.
How to get There
Not taking CO2 dangers seriously can lead to unnecessary, avoidable workplace deaths. Having the required written Health and Safety programs, policies, procedures, and training in place will give you all the tools to manage this occupational hazard.
If you are a business owner and don't know what to do or where to turn, contact an Occupational Health and Safety consulting firm. A good Safety Consultant can help a craft brewer develop and manage their required Health and Safety programs.
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