Sun, Jul 14, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Fast-growing US craft brewers struggle with worker safety

By M.B. Pell  /  Reuters, NEW YORK

By comparison, large brewers, such as Anheuser-Busch and Coors, had 151 violations, including 69 serious ones, during the same period.

OSHA officials declined to comment.

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as one that makes 6 million barrels of beer a year or less, with less than 25 percent of the company owned by an alcoholic drink maker that is not a craft brewer. Traditional recipes are also required.

To be sure, the differences in fatality and violation figures partly reflect the larger breweries’ greater automation and resources to spend on safety programs, as well as — in many cases — their more extensive experience. Safety experts say the workplace fatalities are avoidable.

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. 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 US$44,000 for that and a series of other safety violations.

Sebastian Pastore, vice president of operations for the Craft Brew Alliance, said the incident was a “freak accident” involving a plastic keg dropped off by a customer to be refilled.

The company subsequently re-examined safety issues at the brewery. It has stopped filling plastic kegs and hired an outside consultant to review safety procedures at its breweries. It now has a dedicated safety consultant for the Portsmouth brewery.

Despite the number of violations and deaths, OSHA data only show two serious injuries at craft breweries since 2002, both at the same one. Two workers were burned in separate incidents at Ballast Point Brewing Co in San Diego in July 2010 and August 2010.

Since then, the company has not had one hospitalized injury despite a fivefold increase in production and employees, chief financial officer Rick Morgan said.

Stinchfield said the number of injuries reported to OSHA does not reflect the number of injured employees. This is because brewers often do not know that many states require them to report serious injuries.

He knows of four burn cases that were never reported. Each required skin grafts and months of treatment.

In one of those cases, Teri Fahrendorf was working her first job as a rookie brewmaster at a now-closed San Francisco brewery in 1989 when she used a kettle that was too small to cook wort, a pre-beer solution.

The boiling wort spilled out of the kettle and into Fahrendorf’s knee-high rubber boots. Doctors took strips of skin from her head to graft onto her foot, Fahrendorf said.

Now she promotes safety standards in the industry as founder and president of the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women succeed in brewing. Fahrendorf said the brewery did not report the incident, and it does not appear in OSHA data.

She said she had lacked promised safety and other training. Craft breweries, she said, “don’t have experience with big-boy chemicals, and they don’t have experience with pots that are filled with 900 gallons of boiling liquid.”

Bridgewater, Vermont-based Long Trail Brewing Co and its Otter Creek Brewing subsidiary are two of only three US craft brewers participating in a stringent OSHA safety program.

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