Reuters had a most interesting story this week that is getting some attention in the beer world, talking about the dangers of the brewing industry. Between 2009 and 2012, four brewery workers died in craft operations, compared with just two deaths in the mass market breweries like Bud and Coors, even though the big boys brew 10 times as much beer every year as the smaller breweries. That’s not a huge number of deaths relative to many industries, but it is enough that federal and state regulators are taking a closer look at safety in the booming craft beer market.
“State inspectors and OSHA found 547 violations, including 250 serious ones, at craft breweries from 2003 through 2011, according Reuters’ analysis of the data,” Reuters reported. “Officials fined the small brewers an aggregate $220,000 for violations ranging from failing to enclose sprockets and chains to not ensuring machinery was disabled when an employee was inside.”
It’s quite possible, officials told the news service, that there are many more safety violations and minor injuries that go unreported because of the huge pressure on small brewers to maximize production to meet the increasing demand.
Despite all the romance about brewing, it is an industrial process and can be a dangerous business: you’re dealing with boiling hot liquid, clouds of carbon dixoide that can suffocate workers, kegs and vats under pressure, heavy kegs and equipment, and other dangers large and small.
“Last year, for example, an employee of Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, died when a keg he was cleaning with compressed air exploded and hit him,” Reuters reported. “An OSHA investigation found the air line lacked a device that would keep the pressure in the keg at safe levels. The brewery’s owner, the Craft Brew Alliance, was fined $44,000 for that and a series of other safety violations.”
Even homebrewing has its dangers – hot liquid, heavy kettles, open flames to heat beer. And add to that a danger that rarely afflicts professional brewers – exploding bottles. Every homebrewer has, at one time or another, failed in the sanitation department and created one or more “bottle bombs,” which can blow up, sending glass fragments every which way. I’ve had my share, of course, including one day when I hauled a case out of my basement and put it down on the kitchen floor so I could load the fridge. I stepped over the case to open the fridge door and at that very second, I heard a loud boom and felt a searing pain in my nether regions. Turns out, one of the bottles blew up, sending the neck rocketing skyward into my largely undefended crotch.
I have had a great deal more respect for the bottle bomb since that day.