The Best Approaches for Safety in the Brewery and Distillery

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

As a craft brewer or distiller, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of the beverage production process. After all, from securing supplies to marketing products and everything in between, there’s a lot to keep in order.

  Among the many competing demands, safety sometimes gets taken for granted or overlooked. However, it’s essential to always keep safety on the radar and on the minds of staff. Beverage producers can benefit from a little refresher on safety to protect their valuable workers while also maximizing efficiency and productivity.

Safety Hazards in Breweries & Distilleries

  Because of everything involved in the brewing and distilling processes, many things can go very right or very wrong depending on how operations are run. Various hazards exist in a beverage production facility that workers need to be aware of and trained to address.

  Injuries can occur due to lifting, pushing and carrying equipment or because of falls on slippery floors. Working at tall heights and on ladders can cause injuries, while clutter left behind on floors and in confined spaces can cause tripping. Carbon dioxide gas, boiling liquids, steam, hot surfaces and not being properly trained to use machinery pose hazards. Other causes for concern are flammable chemicals, broken glass and grain dust exposure. Meanwhile, repetitive movements without good ergonomic tools can put employees at risk, and high noise levels can cause ear damage.

  “All semi-finished and finished products are flammable, so proper engineering and procedural controls must be designed, installed and tested, and all staff trained on these controls and procedures,” said Rich Buoni, founding owner of Pennsylvania Distilling Company in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Distilling is a small distillery that produces grain-to-glass vodka, whiskey, rum and gin. Its location offers tasting flights, artisan cocktails, tours and bottle sales in a relaxed environment.

  “As a chemical engineer with significant global experience, it is my opinion that distillery stills should never be direct-fired, as that is simply too intrinsically unsafe regardless of how large the installed base may be,” he said. “Steam, preferably through a vessel jacket or coils, is the best and safest design, although other heating fluids, such as circulating nonflammable hot oil, are acceptable. Electric heating coils are also acceptable but less preferable for a number of reasons.”

  On the brewery side of things, Beverage Master Magazine connected with Chad Gunderson, the president, CEO and head of brewing operations at Half Brothers Brewing Company in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Half Brothers is a family-friendly craft brewery specializing in creating unique beers with innovative ingredients and techniques in a relaxed gathering spot with a taproom, kitchen, live music and local art.

  When asked about the most important safety concerns that brewery owners and employees should be aware of, Gunderson said that “how to properly handle cleaning chemicals, hot water, hose management and cleaning floors” are his top recommendations.

The Role of

Personal Protective Equipment

  Personal protective equipment is vital across many industries, including craft beverage production. Breweries and distilleries should ensure that employees wear the proper clothing and footwear to do their jobs safely and without distraction or hazards. Protection for the eyes, ears and hands should be worn when operating specialized pieces of machinery that can put the body at risk.

  PPE has played an even more significant role in the craft beverage industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on where a producer operates and what the ever-changing guidelines dictate, front-of-house staff members who interact with the general public may also need to utilize face masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and other sanitation measures.

Responsibilities of

Workers and Supervisors

  Ensuring that a brewery or distillery operates in a safe environment starts with good communication among everyone who works onsite. Owners and managers can begin this process by asking employees if they feel safe in the workplace and encouraging them to raise concerns about any potential hazards they have noticed in the facility.

  Buoni at Pennsylvania Distilling Company told Beverage Master Magazine that employee safety training is conducted by him directly. This includes testing equipment controls and safety procedures. 

  “Our safety checklist includes proper use of PPE, fire extinguishers, proper storage of products and chemicals, proper use of pumps and compressors, understanding of peripheral equipment including the steam boiler and chiller, use of any electrical equipment, grounding of tanks and pumps, food processing safety and how to lift objects like grain bags safely,” Buoni said.

  At Half Brothers Brewing, “Each new employee has an SOP manual and exam they must complete before working alone in the building and factory,” said Gunderson.

  The first places to look for safety hazards include the production facility and anywhere open to the public. But don’t forget about behind-the-scenes locations such as the shipping and receiving area or the bathrooms. A safety plan might include briefing delivery drivers and vendors about safety protocols unique to the facility.

Safety Tips for Brewers and Distillers

  Flooring-related slips, trips and falls are among the most critical safety concerns in a brewery or distillery. To ensure that the floors are safe to walk on, spills should be cleaned up as quickly as possible, relevant signage posted, and obstructions moved out of walkways. Obstructions include cords, boxes, bottles, cans and employees’ personal bags. Employees should wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes to protect themselves from broken glass, chemical spills and slippery surfaces.

  Chemical leaks, spills and handling are significant concerns for craft beverage producers because of how dangerous these substances can be when misused. Goggles, protective footwear and safety aprons can help prevent injuries due to chemical exposure. Make sure to clearly label hazardous materials, so employees know to avoid these products or use extra caution when handling them. Ensure proper ventilation in areas where chemicals are used, particularly in small spaces.

  Initial and ongoing safety training is important to prepare employees for potentially dangerous situations and common scenarios that could turn deadly without a moment’s notice. In smaller operations with just a few staff members, it might be necessary to cross-train all employees on the various safety procedures, so everyone is prepared to handle diverse tasks throughout the day. Being proactive with training is always preferable to training in response to an incident. In addition to how to safely use specialized equipment, it may also be beneficial to train employees on first aid, CPR and basic safety tips for seemingly simple tasks like opening boxes and stocking supplies.

  OSHA compliance is required of brewery and distillery owners in order to keep their licenses to operate. Laws and regulations in the alcohol industry frequently change, so producers should keep up with any updates. OSHA is known to show up unannounced to inspect and ensure that safety regulations are being followed. Some of the main things these inspectors look for are cluttered walkways, chemical storage and labeling, keg storage and written records that document training plans, hazard assessments and injury logs.

How to Keep Your

Staff and Customers Safe

  Safety in the brewery or distillery may seem like little more than common sense at first glance, but gentle reminders can go a long way in helping staff members remember what’s most important. Without suitable safety protocols in place, a beverage business could be subjected to extra inspections and incident investigations that disrupt normal operations and put the company at risk of fines or discipline.

  Buoni from Pennsylvania Distilling Company said that his best advice for a new distillery concerning safety is to ensure that they have a solid understanding of the distillation process from beginning to end. 

  “It’s critically important to know how the dots are connected rather than just taking somebody else’s recipe and making liquor,” he said. “Appropriate education is the best answer. For the tasting room, it is really very similar to any bar that serves alcohol to patrons. Having appropriately certified bartenders and servers is key. Staff must understand the uniqueness of a different license class so that all laws are followed.”

  Gunderson at Half Brothers Brewing Company recommends that brand-new breweries thoroughly research the proper chemical training, dosage, time and handling.

  “Clean beer starts at the source of cleaning SOPs,” he said.

  Keeping up with all of these safety requirements and regulations might feel like a hassle, but there’s no way around it if you want to run a reputable craft beverage business. By encouraging a proactive safety culture in your brewery or distillery, you will ultimately attract the types of employees and customers you want and need to stay in business while also letting people know that you honestly care about their health and safety.

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