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Reporter’s Notebook: The Serious Side of Brewery Safety

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth
Reporter’s Notebook: The Serious Side of Brewery Safety

Dan Drown has worked in occupational safety and health for about 30 years, but he's noticing his niche of expertise has been catching on lately.

"Hot liquids, pressurized equipment, fork lifts, CO2, loading docks - when you put all these together, it's important to talk about safety," said Drown, owner of Drown Consulting, LLC. "That's something essential for breweries today."

From Southern California to Seattle, Drown regularly meets with brewery owners and staff to talk about the risks of working in an industrial space. He's even hosted quarterly safety workshops open to the industry at locations like yeast company White Labs.

"Injuries are going to cost you money, downtime in production and elevated insurance," he said. "It's about safety of people, but it also has a bottom line effect."

It's no surprise then that safety is something on the minds of industry professionals these days.

The issues and ramifications of brewery safety is the focus of my latest piece for All About Beer and with good reason. Brewery injuries reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have been on the rise the last four years of reported data, increasing from 160 in 2011 to 530 in 2014. These includes incidents from slips, falls, cuts all the way up to an exploding keg that killed Redhook's Ben Harris in 2012.

Those numbers aren't ideal in any situation, and even if you look at them from the perspective of growth within the industry - lots of new breweries opening, lots of established ones expanding staff - there's still a problem.

"If you're starting a brewery, all you're worried about is selling beer and paying rent," said Michael Francis, owner and brewer at Payette Brewing Co. in Boise, Idaho. "Safety wouldn't crack the top-50 list of things because there are so many other things on the radar."

Even more, the industry is getting new staff from somewhere and it's often less experienced staff that are most injured - the number of injuries reported to the BLS for employees with less than a year of service in the industry went from 40 in 2013 to 200 in 2014.

The industry injury rate (a ratio determined by BLS that's more complicated than you think) is increasing in line with the total number of injuries, too:

So what's being done about all this? The Brewers Association is most certainly more active and breweries are following suit. You can read about the changing attitudes across the industry in my All About Beer story.

If anything, click over to hear from Jeff Carlson, who learned first-hand what can happen when you're not putting safety first.

Read more: As Accidents Increase, So Do Conversations About Safety

Bryan Roth
"Don't drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life." - Jack Kerouac

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