The process of brewing alcohol presents a large number of potential hazards to life and property. By identifying and understanding these risks, it’s possible to take precautions to minimise the risk of potential incidents.
The first stage of the brewing and distilling process involves handling, storing, and milling malt grains. This process generates flammable dust, which can be extremely hazardous. Proper measures to minimise this risk include having a proper extraction system in place to remove the dust from the air. It’s also extremely important that no sources of ignition are present where a flammable atmosphere exists.
Potential sources of ignition can include:
- Open flames
- Torch cutting and welding
- Sparks (static, electrical and mechanical)
- Hot surfaces
- Heat from friction
- Radiant heat
You must be able to show that you have assessed the risk in hazardous areas, and taken precautions to remove potential ignition sources. Heaters and natural gas appliances need to be kept at least 3 metres away from distilling areas. There also needs to be adequate ventilation, and you should of course ban smoking around the work area.
The most obvious hazard in the brewing and distilling process is ethanol. The highly flammable gas and vapours produced can potentially pose a danger to health. A buildup of ethanol could certainly incapacitate workers, however the concentration required to cause real harm are very high.
The risk of fire or explosion from airborne ethanol is a more significant danger. A single spark in an area where the concentration of ethanol is too high could cause a devastating explosion.
It is imperative that any leak of ethanol from casks, pipes or tanks is identified and remedied quickly to avoid disastrous consequences.
Carbon dioxide is released during the fermentation process. As yeast consumes the carbohydrates in the grains, CO2 is released into the atmosphere.
Carbon Dioxide is an odorless, colourless gas, which can represent a serious risk to health if it is allowed to build up. Even at concentrations as low as 1000 ppm (parts per million), CO2 can affect concentration.
As levels rise, it can cause rapid breathing, headaches, hearing impairment and increased heart rate. And at higher levels still, exposure to carbon dioxide can result in loss of consciousness, asphyxiation, and even death.
That’s why it is so important to have proper ventilation, and gas detection systems in place in breweries and distilleries. Without the right equipment, you wouldn’t be able to detect a gas leak until it was too late.
Legal and Insurance Obligations
There are strict legal regulations when it comes to setting up and operating a distillery or brewery. These regulations are enforced by visits from HMRC to check that everything is as it should be.
In addition, all insurance policies for distilleries and breweries will include strict requirements about how the facility should be arranged and operated, and how work should be carried out.
All of these obligations are to minimise risk and keep your staff and property safe. It’s important to fully understand your obligations, and ensure that you are meeting them all.
If you need guidance on any of this, you can speak to our experienced team of specialists. We are happy to offer support in assessing your gas detection needs; please contact Point Safety Ltd for your free no obligation survey.