While owning a distillery can be a rewarding and profitable undertaking, it’s not without risk. The process of making hard alcohol like whisky, gin and rum is not easy and often involves large, potentially dangerous equipment. What’s more, those that manufacture alcohol often have to deal with dangerous fumes and other harmful factors.
To protect their business, employees and customers, distillery owners must take a proactive approach to identify and mitigate the unique exposures that affect their operations.
In order to create alcohol, carbohydrates like starch and sugar must be converted through fermentation. During this process, yeast eats carbohydrates and creates carbon dioxide—an odourless, colourless and toxic gas.
The following is a breakdown of how different concentrations of carbon dioxide can impact the health of your employees:
Your workers could be exposed to carbon dioxide through inhalation. Thankfully, you can minimise these hazards by properly venting your fermentation area. Because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, ensure that you vent the lower levels of your work areas.
If your distillery uses a converted chest freezer as a fermentation chamber, it should be noted 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 you or your staff members are passionate about creating alcohol. This environment can sometimes create a loose work atmosphere where staff members are allowed to drink on the job.
This is ill-advised, as alcohol can affect an individual’s perception and reaction time. What’s more, alcohol can negatively impact a worker’s judgement, potentially leading to dangerous mistakes or accidents.
And, when you’re working with large, expensive equipment, mishaps can be costly or even fatal. Avoid adding unnecessary hazards by banning alcohol consumption during work hours.
Fires and Explosions
Ethanol vapour is highly flammable and is one of the main fire and explosion hazards at distilleries. Ethanol can be released from leaks in tanks, casks, transfer pumps, pipes and flexible hoses.
Common ignition hazards to control can include the following:
In addition to being mindful of ignition sources, you can protect your distillery by keeping a dry powder or carbon dioxide fire extinguisher readily available. Ensure that any sprinkler systems you have meet industry and regulatory standards.
You should also provide adequate ventilation in the distillery and ban smoking and e-cigarettes around the work area. Be sure to keep heaters and natural gas appliances at least 3 metres away from distilling areas.
It should be noted that dust formed from processing grain and chemical spills can also cause fires or explosions. As such, it’s important to practise good housekeeping to avoid the accumulation of combustible debris or liquids.
Physical Injury and Other Employee Hazards
A distillery can be an unsafe environment for your workers if you fail to take the proper precautions. There are countless risks you will need to account for, including the following:
Above all, stills should never be left unattended, and employers should set clear policies and procedures related to workplace safety.
Protect Your Investment
Owning a distillery can be a challenging, yet rewarding, experience. Taking into account the above safety tips will help ensure that the investments you have put into your business are not wasted following an injury or other mishap.
For additional protection, consider speaking to your Kennett Insurance Brokers broker about your insurance options. He or she will be able to discuss potential policies to address common distillery risks.