It's up to you to keep your employees and customers safe.
Brewery safety should be a priority.
When people think fondly of breweries, three important things may come to mind: kegs, beer and happiness. And ultimately, that’s exactly what brewers want the consumer to walk away with—a positive, enjoyable experience, sampling and purchasing good beer. However, many people underestimate the amount of hard labor that goes on behind the scenes, or the vigilance required to maintain a safe work environment in the day-to-day operations of beer making.
Craft breweries have experienced nearly four times as many safety violations as larger breweries in recent years, according to a Reuters analysis of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data. Breweries carry a high risk of injury, with safety concerns ranging from routine slips and falls and unsecured kegs to caustic chemicals used in a confined space and improper use of personal protective equipment.
As a brewer, you have a responsibility to your employees and customers to uphold the highest standards of safety.
Open communication is key to ensuring safety within the brewery. Asking employees the simple question, “Do you feel safe here?” will often spark a conversation about safety within the workplace and give employees an opportunity to speak up and raise concerns if need be. Whether they have complaints, praise, or questions when it comes to safety in your facility, carefully listening to and taking stock of their feedback will help you become a safer employer.
Regular and comprehensive safety training is also paramount as it gives employees the practice and know-how to effectively respond to both less severe, more common situations and more extreme scenarios.
Jennifer Brinton, owner of Grey Sail Brewing in Rhode Island, has a word of advice when it comes to training your team, “Stay ahead of the game by being proactive with safety training. Always assume that new employees do not know how to operate within the brewery safely.”
Consider safety in shipping and receiving areas. Help vendors and delivery drivers safely navigate the layout of your property in places like the parking lot or driveway, by adding wayfinding signage to provide the safest and most efficient ways to get the job done.
While it’s easy to focus your safety preparations on the brewing operations, don’t overlook other areas of your facility, such as the bar or any area where you serve patrons. Stay up to date and compliant with FDA and local regulations and train bartending staff accordingly.
Seemingly small hazards should also not be overlooked. “As business owners, we tend to worry about bigger safety concerns that are industry specific. But through the course of the day, a mundane task such as cutting a bag open with a knife can result in a cut,” says Brinton. Consider providing staff with CPR classes, first aid kits and portable AEDs, along with basic training to make sure everyone is equipped to respond appropriately.Safety Procedures (and Supplies) for Anything and Everything
Safety risks are abundant in breweries, from the use of caustic chemicals, to the hazards that come along with handling hot water and glass. Accidents can be prevented with proper use of protective gear.
Wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is not merely a suggestion for employees, it should be required. Build a culture where employees are in the practice of wearing the proper gear every time they perform routine tasks.
Here is a list of products you should be supplying and have on-hand for all employees working within the brewery:
- Eye protection: Protects against hot water, chemical splashes/spills, glass breaking while bottling.
- Ear protection: Protects against noise from the bottling/canning and racking equipment; also protects against noise-induced hearing loss from driving or working near loud forklifts and trucks.
- Protective helmets: Helmets must be worn where falling object hazards are present, such as near a conveyor belts carrying bottles or in a warehouse where kegs are stored.
- Protective footwear: Protects against hot water or chemical spills, broken glass, dropped kegs, etc. Also reduces the risk of slips and falls on sometimes wet and slippery brewery floors.
- Safety aprons and gloves: for the handling of chemicals, and to protect against splashing and hot water.
Safe Handling of Packaged Gas and Chemicals
Packaged gases and caustic chemicals are a major component in brewing - there should never be a second thought about the seriousness of working in close quarters. These supplies can be dangerous if not properly handled.
Brewers often work in confined spaces – from cleaning and servicing fermenters to grain silos, safeguards like entry procedures and training are a must to ensure workers are safe in confined spaces. Here are some tips to keeping your employees safe:
- Clearly label chemicals, especially any that are hazardous.
- Proper ventilation is essential when using chemicals. Consider your ventilation needs, particularly in small spaces or even in refrigeration systems where ammonia is used.
- Don’t overlook maintenance and cleanliness of cylinders. Monitor gas pressure routinely to avoid any major incidents, and makes sure to use a lockout/tagout system to clearly mark tanks or lines that are shut down for service.
Don’t let an oversight cut into the time and energy you’d rather spend developing your brewery. Make sure you’re keeping safety at the top of your to-do lists.
Start by preparing and documenting procedures to be compliant with current laws and regulations. Set up time to train employees on the procedures and always keep your safety records current. Revisit your plans on a recurring basis, and be prepared to update procedures well in advance of new laws taking effect.Develop Safety Protocols in Preparation for OSHA Inspections
One major item to prepare for is an unannounced visit from an inspector from a local, state or federal regulatory agency. For instance, OSHA regularly inspects hazardous workplaces without advanced notice. OSHA inspectors are looking to see that regulations are being followed and also to help employers and workers reduce on-the-job hazards to prevent workplace injuries.
One of the very first items an OSHA inspector will want to cross off of the list is to look for an organized, clutter-free workspace. Cords, equipment and any other miscellaneous items should be cleared from walkways, and like your chemicals, everything should be clearly labeled.
Another big risk to avoid is injuries due to improper keg storage. For the heavier equipment in the brewery, make sure your racks are sturdy and that you are stacking kegs properly.
To fully prepare for an OSHA inspection, follow a few essential tips from The Brewer’s Association:
- Select a company representative to work directly with your OSHA compliance officer before and during the inspection
- This can typically be a safety director, or management level employee who is familiar with the brewery’s responsibilities and rights in the event of an OSHA inspection, as well as your safety programs and records.
- Very important – have written records accessible for:
- Hazard assessments used to develop appropriate controls for the protection of employees and, if you have a public storefront, your customers.
- Written safety programs specific to your current brewery operations
- Employee training and documentation
- OSHA illness and injury recordkeeping logs for the last five years
- Compliance and OSHA standards documents
If you would like a step-by-step toolkit on how to properly prepare you brewery for an on-site inspection from OSHA, the Brewer’s Association e-toolbox titled “Best Management Practice for Surviving an OSHA Inspection,” is a one-stop shop for all of your questions and answers regarding a visit.Stay Compliant
Remember to stay up-to date and in line with other relevant regulations:
- Alcohol Regulations: any business that produces or sells alcohol is required to follow national and state laws, as well as any local rules and regulations.
- Good Manufacturing Practices: in adherence with federal, state and county regulations and standards, set up sourcing and production standards and quality management practices.
- Environmental Impact: in accordance with regulations in your area, plan ahead to effectively manage wastewater, waste disposal and emissions to air to stay compliant.
Staying on top of regulations and requirements can save you from expensive fines, employee injuries and possible closure of your business. If you invest in proper safety materials and stay focused on your employees’ safety and training, your up-to-code brewery will be set for smooth operations.
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