Distillery Risk – Avoiding Common Hazards
Across Ontario, many new craft breweries, wineries and spirit distilleries have taken root in recent years. The process of distilling hard alcohol such as whisky, gin and rum commonly involves large equipment, toxic fumes and other potentially harmful elements. In addition to securing comprehensive distillery insurance, some of the most common hazards, as well as distillery risk management approaches, are outlined below.
During the fermentation process, the yeast eats carbohydrates and creates carbon dioxide – an odourless, colourless and toxic gas that can impact the health of employees. Because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, properly venting the lower levels of your fermentation areas can help to minimize the potential of your workers inhaling carbon dioxide. If your distillery uses a converted chest freezer as a fermentation chamber, be aware that carbon dioxide can collect at the bottom of the cabinet. To address this, periodically prop the lid up and use a fan to introduce fresh air.
Distilleries can be a fun work environment, especially if your employees are passionate about creating alcohol. This environment can sometimes create a work atmosphere where staff are allowed to drink on the job. Alcohol can affect an individual’s perception and reaction time as well as negatively impact a worker’s judgment, potentially leading to dangerous mistakes or accidents with large, expensive equipment. Avoid adding unnecessary hazards by banning alcohol consumption during work hours.
Fires & Explosions
Ethanol vapour is highly flammable and a major fire and explosion hazard if it leaks from tanks, casks, transfer pumps, pipes and/or flexible hoses. Common ignition control hazards can include open flames, torch cutting and welding operations, sparks (static, electrical and mechanical), hot surfaces, heat from friction and radiant heat. A few ways to manage these distillery risks include:
- Installing adequate ventilation
- Being mindful of ignition sources
- Keeping a dry powder or carbon dioxide fire extinguisher readily available
- Ensuring that sprinkler systems meet industry and regulatory standards can help to manage risks
- Banning smoking in and around the work area
- Ensuring heaters and natural gas appliances are at least 10 feet away from distilling areas
In addition, dust formed from processing grain as well as chemical spills can also cause fires or explosions. Good housekeeping can help to avoid the accumulation of combustible debris or liquids.
Physical Injury & Other Employee Hazards
Distilleries can be an unsafe environment for your workers if you fail to take the proper precautions and set clear workplace safety policies and procedures. Regular safety assessments can help you address hazards as they arise. Some common distillery risks to be on the outlook for include:
- Chemical hazards. Require personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, steel cap boots and liquid proof aprons. Be sure to clean up any chemical spills immediately.
- Electrocution. Never run power cables through pools of liquid. Avoid using extension cords, power boards or equipment with damaged plugs, sockets or cables. For added safety, ground equipment and use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) or residual current device (RCD).
- Injuries caused by heavy lifting. You can help prevent repetitive strain and other injuries by training workers to use safe lifting practices, not overexert themselves and use back braces or team lifting for heavy loads.
- Physical hazards. Ensure the work areas are free of trip and slip hazards and noise from equipment, high-pressure tools, boiling liquids, hot surfaces and confined spaces is addressed. Ensure stills are never left unattended.
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Sources: Adapted from Risks Insights © 2017 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved. This Risk Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.
The Toronto Star: Boom expected for Ontario craft spirit distilleries