2018: A (Pretty) Good Year in Brewery Safety

The good news: brewery worker injury and illness rates fell to an all-time low in 2017, and we’re hopeful the trend will continue. The not-so-good news: serious injuries and fatalities are still occurring in the country’s craft breweries.

Early in 2018, I reported on visits to Vermont and New Mexico guilds. As 2018 has now come to a close, here are some highlights of the rest of my travels.

Summer Guild Visits: Virginia and Texas

Left to right: Brewers Jim Sipp and Rian Van Nordheim from Stone Brewing Co., Safety Ambassador Matt Stinchfield, Virgina Craft Brewers Guild President/CEO Brett Vassey, and Eric McKay of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Virginia is for (beer) Lovers, so the saying goes. In June, I addressed the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild in Richmond. The technical meeting was paired with the awards ceremony for the 7th annual Virginia Craft Beer Cup.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that goes for brewery guild meetings as well! The Texas Craft Brewers Guild held their Summer Education and Safety Seminar in San Marcos – halfway between Austin and San Antonio – on a warm July Saturday morning. Amazingly, after a night of socializing with their peers, 300 brewers and owners arrived on-time, bright-eyed and bushytailed to get a dose of brewery safety at nine in the morning. The group was polite, attentive and engaged. Some great follow-up questions filled up the hour.

Safety Showdown in Scotland

I also conducted a guerrilla safety ambassador détente while vacationing in Scotland. It has long been my desire to connect with brewers and safety organizations in other countries with the goal of exchanging practices and policies. Squeezing a short safety visit in between the Highland Games, hikes, and canoeing, I had the chance to visit the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore, an outdoorsy little town smack dab along the River Spey – yes, THAT River Spey.

Matt Stinchfield with Cairngorm Brewery Operations Manager David Baird. Don’t you love the guy at the shop register wearing his Hi-Vis?

David Baird, operations manager of the brewery, generously met me and discussed the ins and outs of complying with the Health and Safety Directive, established in 1974. While there were many parallels to our domestic OSHA programs, there were also some key differences. First off, since they are dealing with a national health care rule that covers everyone, there is no need for workers compensation. If you become ill or injured, whether you are at work or play, you’re covered.

Another difference is the authority of the local health and safety (H&S) inspectors. If they see an unsafe action during a brewery visit, they can issue an immediate stop work citation which will last until the hazard is resolved. Also, H&S fines are much more crippling in the UK. The H&S authorities can tap into the company’s income records and, while they don’t want to cause a company to go out of business, they can assess fines that will seriously hurt the bottom line. In other words, the bigger the business and the more employees they have, the bigger the fines can be. In the U.S., OSHA has what appears to be more of a schedule of fines, depending on the nature of the compliance issue, not the employer.

It wasn’t all work and no play… Matt Stinchfield visits the Allt Fhearnagan Falls, Glen Feshie, tributary to the River Spey

In general, safety is taken very seriously in the UK. Drivers are much more compliant with driving regulations – for example, you’ll rarely see people passing through the slow lane on a motorway,  if for no other reason than because most drivers pass through the fast lane and promptly return to the travel lane. I’m not talking about the thousands of miles of narrow one-lane roads that crisscross Britain. But even on those roads, one driver will yield to the other in readily available wide spots in the road called lay-bys.

In workplaces, whether they be breweries, distilleries, on ferries, mechanics shops, or anywhere else, you’ll most always see workers wearing the bright yellow “Hi-Vis” vests. On brewery tours in England and Scotland, I was typically issued a Hi-Vis. It makes me feel good that I’m being seen and that the facility is so concerned for my well being.

Fourth Quarter Rally

Ambassador schedules are variable. This year I presented to four guilds in just a five-week span.

Connecticut

The first stop was the Connecticut Brewers Guild. Severe weather kept the numbers down, but that didn’t dampen the mood at New England Brewing Company in Woodbridge.

Since its formation in 2012, the guild has grown rapidly; the state is now home to over 80 breweries. The guild hosted back-to-back talks from two Brewers Association representatives, first me on safety and hazard assessment, then Sarah Billiu on food safety and quality.

Kentucky

Later in October, I addressed the Kentucky Guild of Brewers in Lexington. The talk was hosted by Ethereal Brewing located in the hip and historical campus of the James Pepper Distillery. Guild members expressed their concern for safety and appreciated my visit.

Louisiana

At the end of the month I spoke to the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild in New Orleans. It was the first technical conference held by the guild, and appropriately, was held in a brewing equipment manufacturer’s shop space. The high warehouse ceilings and brewhouses in various states of completion were offset with a great lunch spread and plenty of cold suds to ward off the oppressive heat.

After the meeting, the group went next door to Urban South Brewery. As I settled down to a picnic table for a “safety confessional,” I was engaged with numerous area brewers who wanted to discuss safety in more detail. Quite a few of the new brewers I met had made the jump from big Gulf-area industries, like off-shore oil drilling and marine shipping. Coming from industries where process safety is so important, these brewers noted that craft brewery safety still has a ways to go. Did you know Louisiana has one of the lowest workplace injury rates in the country? True that.

Colorado

My last talk of the year was to the Colorado Brewers Guild in Fort Collins. The Colorado guild is quite strong and holds regular conferences and trade shows. While I was in Colorado I took the time to work out of the headquarters office, visit with MBAA safety committee chair Jim Stricker, and sit for a forthcoming video interview with Brewers Association senior art director Luke Trautwein.

Safety was already a top-of-mind topic for Colorado brewers because half of the state is under an OSHA Local Emphasis Program, or LEP. The LEP came about because the injury and illness rate for the beverage industry was tracking much higher in Colorado than the national average. Even though breweries have the lowest injury rates of the six types of beverage manufacturers (beer, wine, spirits, soda, water, and ice), they are still subject to an increased probability of OSHA inspection. The LEP has also inspired a lot of breweries to seek OSHA consultation through Colorado State University’s assistance program.

The crowning achievement for brewery safety in Colorado came as the Region VIII OSHA office, the CSU consultation branch, the Colorado Brewers Guild, the Brewers Association, and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas agreed to a public-private industry agreement to mutually support and carry out brewery safety education in the Centennial State. The official signing will take place soon at Upslope Brewing Company in Boulder.

Looking Ahead

State guilds manager, the affable Acacia Coast, has my 2019 schedule almost complete. Portland, Oregon welcomes me in January, then off to Charleston, South Carolina and then to Albany, New York. April will be pretty busy, as I organize Brewery Safety Bootcamp at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) and give presentations on brewery burns, chemical safety, and OSHA consultation. If you’re heading to Denver for CBC, I urge you and your coworkers to make safety presentations a priority. The Bootcamp alone is reason enough to be a brewery member of the Brewers Association – there will be entertaining hi-jinks and a certificate of attendance for your safety recordkeeping.


Matt Stinchfield, the Brewers Association Safety Ambassador, travels nationwide educating craft brewers on ways to improve brewery safety through conscientious and affordable prevention and protection strategies. He has been actively creating safer workplaces for over three decades, and has focused on brewery safety for the last 20 years as a safety and loss control consultant to mid-sized and regional craft breweries and distilleries. Matt is a member of the Brewers Association safety subcommittee and sits on the Master Brewers Association of America’s food safety committee. Matt founded his own brewery, Ploughshare Brewing Company, in Lincoln, Neb. in 2014.