Reducing Wrist Injuries from Lifting Kegs

As we’ve grown, we are seeing an increased handling of full kegs throughout the brewery. One of our crew recently developed a tendon strain in his wrist from moving kegs. We had always been focused on the safety aspects of keg moving from the standpoint of proper lifting to protect your back and wearing steel toes, but did not anticipate this type of injury. I’d like to incorporate into our safety training a session that also focuses on arms and wrists in keg moving. We have not found any guidance in our search for educational materials in that domain. Is there anything available? Also, should our crew wear wrist braces while moving kegs to prevent strain on the wrist tendons and muscles?

The Safety Exchange Says: There is little question that manual handling of full kegs, which can weigh in excess of 160 pounds, is a significant risk factor that will likely result in employee injury. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a limit of 51 pounds for single person lifts under ideal conditions when the employee must lift repeatedly over an 8 hour work shift. Based on this recommended guideline it is easy to see that a full keg is not something employees should be lifting on a routine basis. Requiring two employees for manual keg lifting is an improvement, but full kegs are too heavy and cumbersome for that to be a safe option.

It is commendable that you have already taken some steps to reduce employee injuries by training employees on proper lifting techniques and requiring safety shoes. Whenever you are evaluating methods to reduce employee exposures to a hazard, the following hierarchy should be followed; engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment. Before you put too much reliance on employee training (administrative control) and wrist braces (PPE), you should do everything you can to eliminate the hazard through engineering controls. No amount of training or PPE will eliminate the risk of injury due to manual keg handling. Examples of engineering controls for keg handling include two wheeled hand trucks, overhead keg hoists and walk behind electric keg lifts. Each year it seems that more and more equipment specifically designed for keg handling becomes available. You will find examples on display at trade shows such as Craft Brewers Conference. It may require a combination of several types of devices to address all of the manual handling situations that arise in your brewery.

If additional equipment is not feasible you may need to fall back on other controls to reduce exposures. Review your work flows and processes to make sure that kegs are being handled in such a way that you are minimizing the number of times a keg must be manually lifted as it moves from cleaning to filling to storage or shipping. Many times you will find un-needed steps and inefficient routing of the kegs through your facility that increases the potential for injury. Make sure that areas where kegs are handled are kept clear of obstructions and that good access is provided around the kegs being handled. Keg handling can be especially difficult when working in tight places such as coolers. Provide employees training on safe material handling practices and discourage or prohibit single person lifting of full kegs. Use of wrist braces and back belts is not recommended. Through a combination controls you should be able to reduce the potential for employee injuries while handling full kegs.

Some good resources on keg handling and manual material handling include: