The wine industry in particular has grown consistently in recent years and employs around 1,700 people – although challenges such as COVID-19 and the resulting drop in demand from the hospitality sector and a reduction in seasonal workers following Brexit are likely to have an impact.
Whilst the UK beer industry appears to be at saturation point, it remains a large contributor to the UK economy with a turnover of close to £9bn and providing direct employment for around 16,000 individuals.
In this blog, we’d like to shine a spotlight on the specific health and safety requirements for these industries.
What are the specific risks for these industries?
There are of course a wide range of hazards and Health and Safety considerations such as the risk of slips, trips and falls, manual handling and safe handling of chemicals, but for the purpose of this blog we’d like to focus on the risks and hazards associated with these industries.
- The nature of the work involves, storage and fermentation within tanks, vessels, vats and silos. These are all confined spaces that can contain hidden hazards and risks.
- The occurrence of natural or added asphyxiant, toxic gases.
Both areas on their own present an increased risk for those working in these environments, but even more so in combination. There have been several widely reported incidents due to oxygen deficiency and exposure to toxic gases – most if not all of which could have been prevented with the correct training and safety measures in place.
Gases are an important part of wine making and are either naturally released during the process (such as Argon or Carbon Dioxide) or added to help preserve the wine (such as Nitrogen). These are of course needed to produce great tasting wine but do present a higher risk and therefore need to be stored and handled in a safe way.
The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, an odourless and colourless, asphyxiant gas. Excessive levels of carbon dioxide can cause headaches, rapid breathing, shortness of breath and dizziness. Confined spaces with high levels of carbon dioxide can be a fatal due to the reduced levels of oxygen.
The brewing process consists of a number of steps and use of large vessels, such as fermentation and conditioning vessels – all considered confined spaces. Even opening a confined space without the correct gas monitoring equipment and procedures in place is considered to be dangerous, especially when the Confined space contains CO2 gas a gas produced as part of the fermentation process. High concentrations of the gas can be found within the vessels, or in areas where CO2 is leaking from cylinders, pipes, or tanks – such as fermentation cellars or filtration and carbonation areas within breweries.
What can you do to minimise the risk?
Luckily, there are a range of measures that can be taken to minimise the risk. These should be considered as part of an extensive risk assessment and be included in a written plan. Whilst the exact measures will vary, here are some useful pointers to consider:
- Using high quality tanks and equipment that is designed with the highest safety standards in mind
- Specialist training for this sector. Educating and training staff in how to access and manage confined spaces safely, and with the right protective equipment in place, is paramount to offering a safe working environment and reducing accidents
- Installing a CO2 monitor
- Ensuring sufficient ventilation
- Regular inspection and maintenance of equipment
- Safety signs alerting individuals to the risks
- Using correct access and egress equipment
The Alpha Training team run bespoke training courses for local breweries and vineyards in Sussex and across the UK, so please get in touch if you would like to enquire further about any of our training courses.