Safety and Compliance: More Than Just a Checklist

By: Tracey L. Kelley

In the past 10 years, workplace injuries and illnesses declined in the craft beverage manufacturing industry. This is good news, as it’s a thriving employment sector. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016—the most recent data collected—breweries, distilleries and other artisanal beverage producers employed approximately 75,000 people. In Canada, according to information from the System of National Accounts in 2018, the craft industry had more than 15,000 workers.

  Some experts say a reduction in workplace incidents is the direct result of an attitudinal shift from reaction to prevention. Ashley Heiman is the MRO department manager for Nelson-Jameson in Marshfield, Wisconsin—a single-source food, dairy and beverage processing plant supplier. Heiman explained the vital importance of this approach. 

  “The Food Safety Modernization Act created a significant culture shift. The essential question that the FSMA pushes us and our customer base to ask is, ‘How can I most effectively and proactively create a safe, quality product?’” she told Beverage Master Magazine. “When you think proactively about your product, it pushes you to think proactively about your facility and the staff that produces that product. From floor drains to dust collection in your rafters, every facet of your facility and those operating that facility can make or break a brewery or distillery.”

  Established in 2011 by the Food and Drug Administration, FSMA compliance extended to beverage producers at a graduated rate. It began in 2016 for companies with over 500 full-time employees, scaling down to “very small businesses”—those with beverage sales of less than $1 million—finalizing compliance in September 2018. Inspections of beverage raw materials started this year. For some producers, this compliance required extensive examination and overhaul of processes and systems.

  One might assume that requirements by OSHA and the FDA already cover worker and product safety issues. In many ways, they do, but this additional layer of compliance mandated by the FSMA is a necessity for consumer products. It’s also another thread of bureaucracy to follow—one of many that can be challenging to untangle. 

  “It’s very difficult for business owners to dedicate time to learning all the nuances of compliance to both OSHA and the FDA. They’re really interested in creating and growing their businesses, so having a consultant who’s knowledgeable in these compliance areas allows the owner to both focus on the business and ensure that someone is keeping them compliant,” said Gary D. Morgan, Vice President and senior consultant of SafeLink Consulting in Cumming, Georgia. He’s also an authorized OSHA outreach trainer.

  “Our business is to know everything we can about OSHA safety requirements and FDA regulations on producing beverages that are safe for the public to consume, so we keep our clients as informed as possible in these areas,” Morgan said. He also pointed out that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and its Food Inspection Agency mirror OSHA and the FDA requirements rather closely, so producers sharing a national border are assured of similar compliance between partners.

Create an Environment of Safety

  Doing what’s best for the product starts with the optimum workplace atmosphere and training provided to employees. Ideally, owners and managers should establish these best practices in the early stages of the business.

  “Bringing a consultant onboard at start-up can ensure decisions can be made in the development stage that takes into consideration compliance issues for both OSHA and FDA,” Morgan said. “Trying to retrofit safety considerations into an existing design can be costlier than providing for it upfront. Implementing an FDA-compliant quality system initially can also prevent or handle issues in producing a product that’s fit for consumption.”

Morgan advised that instead of evaluating consultants by price, first outline facility specifications.

  “Then, I would suggest that as part of due diligence, talk to several consulting firms and ask the same questions of each one to ensure an apples¬-to-apples comparison, rather than just looking solely at pricing. A producer should include expenses for these services in the annual budget.”

  Another top-to-bottom safety solution, Heiman said, is color-coding. “We’ve seen a great interest in it. It’s proven to be an excellent proactive approach. Not only can color-coding help prevent cross-contamination in terms of allergens or yeast strains, but it also helps to organize and streamline workflow, designates critical control areas of a facility and assists many of our customers in isolating possible pathogen risks,” she said. “With the wide variety of products we offer, facilities can build a color-coded program to break up their operations into pragmatic zones.”   

  Josh Pringle is the vice president of CO2Meter in Ormond Beach, Florida. His company specializes in the design and manufacturing of gas detection and monitoring devices—mainly CO2—as well as consultancy and training. He advises producers not to rely on state or local inspectors to tell them to improve ventilation or install monitors: do it because it’s what’s best for your employees.

  “Producers should consider the following when preparing to train or educate staff: what’s in the best interest of our employees, what does our insurance provider require us to do, what will OSHA/NIOSH expect as part of a training package, and how should we plan to test and retrain staff,” he told Beverage Master Magazine. “We have a brewing partner who made the following statement: ‘Why would I pay a few hundred dollars for a safety monitor and then not train my staff on what to do if it goes off? Pointless!’”

  Pringle noted that many professional associations offer free training regarding CO2 safety, proper lockout/tagout procedures, and dozens of other critical topics.

  These organizations include, but are not limited to:

•    American Distilling Institute

•    Brewers’ Association

•    International Beverage Dispensing Equipment Association

•    Master Brewers Association of the Americas

•    WorkSafeBC

  OSHA and NIOSH also have online training, workbooks, visual aids and other resources for new employee and refresher training.

  He cautioned against complacency in your facility. “When employees work in and around hazardous situations, materials, ingredients and situations, no duty should be considered mundane or a ‘to do.’ Safety is an every moment, everyday project,” Pringle said. “The statistic always sited from the National Transportation Safety Board is the majority of car accidents occurred within five miles of someone’s home. The data demonstrated that drivers started to let their guard down in more familiar surroundings. Employee safety has no mileage areas. Any training that allows for complacency is flawed.”

  Morgan agreed. He offered these three tips:

1.  Always be vigilant to compliance issues. Oversight is demanding.

2.  Delegate responsibilities to duly-trained and competent individuals.

3.  Training is an ongoing activity, not a one-time event.

More Than a List on a Clipboard

  Workers in the craft beverage industry are prone to the following injuries and illnesses:

•    Overexertion, including medical conditions caused by repetitive motion or lifting heavy items such as barrels, kegs and crates.

•    Slips, trips and falls because of slick floors, ladders, obstacles and carrying heavy loads up and downstairs.

•    Working in fermenters, tanks, vats and other confined spaces, especially when carbon dioxide exposure is a concern.

•    Physical hazards such as pressurized equipment, forklifts, temperature extremes, and moving parts.

  It might require specialized products, protective gear, and consultation to maintain essential worker safety. “Safety concerns are widespread across a facility. Personal protective equipment, noise protection and respiratory protection are some of the most common product areas we deal with for our brewery and distillery customers,” said Heiman of Nelson-Jameson. “Lockout/tagout products are also popular. Additionally, it’s important to be specific with vendors if employees are handling chemicals, lab reagents, machinery, and so on. These details dictate the best products to utilize.”

  Even with a safety plan upon start-up, and as Pringle of CO2Meter expressed previously, crafting operations are integrated with safety in handling not only CO2 but throughout all functions. So the plan becomes more of a living document, refined by training, to help staff anticipate and correct issues before a more significant problem occurs.

  Here are the steps Pringle recommended:

•   Identify the hazard

•   Discuss the hazard

•   Create a plan of action to prevent the hazard

•   Create a secondary plan that accounts for and mitigates the hazard

•   Define methods to disperse the hazard

•   Understand the methodology to test an area to ensure safe conditions

•   Create and institute a policy and procedure to understand an incident

•   Create a safety plan

•   Including safe zones and rally points

•   Practice, practice, practice

“Be mindful. Be aware, Follow procedures, no matter how cumbersome. For example, lockout/tagout has become a mainstay because it’s effective,” Pringle said.

  Regarding C02 specifically, “The most likely points of CO2 incidents for beverage producers are at their canning and bottling lines. ‘Dosing’ areas typically register CO2 concentrations above the OSHA– and NIOSH–permissible time-weighted average standard of 5,000 ppm TWA for employees—placing a typical producer in violation,” Pringle said. “While working around CO2 can often be a necessity for beverage staff members, having proper training sessions and ensuring your staff is informed on the dangers of CO2 is the first step.”

  Morgan of SafeLink Consulting had some final thoughts. “Be proactive in establishing your compliance programs. If you have to be reactive, then something negative has happened that could be very detrimental to the business itself. It could be an employee injury or complaint, or a product that causes consumer complaints or worse, consumer injury or illness,” he said.

  “And there’s always the ever-present specter of an inspection from a regulatory agency with fines, penalties and even forced business suspension or closure. Give yourself peace of mind by being on top of compliance issues, not at the mercy of them.”

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