I’ve seen it happen a million times; a person thoughtlessly lifting a keg with one hand, acting like it’s no big deal while veins pop out of their neck. It reminds me of the kids that I went to grade school with that would carry their 20-pound backpack around on one strapped shoulder because it was cooler, not realizing the repercussions they would likely face as an adult with back pain. Yes, I was one of those kids, unfortunately. This is probably why I’m so passionate about ergonomics and smart lifting as an adult.
A full half barrel keg is 165 pounds and a full sixtel weighs about 58 pounds. Lifting something heavy will always present some injury risk, but some factors that exacerbate that risk include the origin of the lift being below knuckle height and a person holding the keg slightly away from their body. Lifting a heavy keg without assistance that may have been safe to lift at one time, can cause back problems another time.
Here are a few easy tips to help reduce the risk of injury when handling kegs. They work best when they’re all done together.
Tip 1: Use a Portable Hand Truck
The first tip is to use a hand truck when transporting a keg even a short distance. It is a smart choice to put these tools to work to prevent injury. Some portable hand trucks fold up and are easy to store in a car to be used when needed. At a bar or restaurant, having a hand truck always available to use somewhere near the cooler is a necessity.
Tip 2: Try a Buddy Lift
When setting up your cooler, try to avoid setting it up in a way that requires a single person to lift a keg above their chest, which brings me to my second tip: the buddy lift. The buddy lift is simply tagging in a buddy to help you lift a keg. Many of us don’t like to ask for help because we want to make sure everyone knows we’ve got it covered. The thing is, the embarrassment one would feel from asking for help is a much shorter time than the years of chronic back pain they could deal with. Having someone grab the other keg handle to share the weight helps cut the risk of injury dramatically.
Having a buddy to help lift kegs, using a hand truck, and having an ergonomically designed cooler can each reduce the risk of back injury, but training on proper lifting techniques should always be part of an onboarding curriculum for anyone who works around kegs. A person using a hand truck or lifting with a buddy should be armed with knowledge of ergonomics and proper lifting techniques first. There are resources available to help with safer lifting techniques from the Brewers Association (BA).
Tip 3: Stop and Consider Keg Connections
Another safety consideration that occurs when handling kegs is engaging and disengaging a coupler. If a keg valve where you would attach a coupler appears to be damaged or loose, quarantine the keg from the others and label it as a “bad keg with defective valve.” It is important to indicate as much specific information about the issue as possible so that it can be safely handled downstream. Above all else, do not attempt to fix the keg. Because a keg of beer is a pressurized vessel, any mechanical issues should be treated with great caution. Inform the brewery or wholesaler that there’s a mechanical issue with the keg and it was unable to be tapped so it can be picked up and replaced.
Tip 4: Train on Keg Tapping Procedures
Providing training on how to tap a keg is important for anyone who will be tapping kegs in their future. Again, many people don’t want to admit that they’ve never tapped a keg before, so it can’t be assumed that a new hire will ask for help. It would first be useful to educate the trainee on the different types of couplers and which kegs they’re used to tap. Some kegs with screw-in valves lack fail-safe pressure relief, risking ejection if not properly handled. The second part that I like to stress to anyone who’s tapping a keg is that it doesn’t take a great amount of force. In fact, it takes very little. With a ‘D’ coupler, one should slide the coupler into the valve finding the locking neck, then gently turn the coupler clockwise about 25 degrees and then push down the lever to engage the gas. Using too much force when tapping a keg not only causes damage to the coupler and keg, but it also causes unneeded stress for the person who must untap the keg later. Review the BA playlist on keg maintenance, safety, and quality for more guidance.
With so many people handling kegs as part of their daily job responsibilities, keeping a safe workplace training on keg handling cannot be overlooked. Failing to provide the right training in ergonomics and keg handling can lead to injury, time loss, and decreased morale. Being proactive in committing to a safe work environment is hard work, but it’s important work to protect the safety of one another.