Brewing industry organizations announced this week a major joint effort to address a topic that’s not often discussed: workplace safety.
The Brewers Association, the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, and the Colorado Brewers Guild have created an “alliance” with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration Region VIII Office, Englewood Area Office, and Denver Area Office, as well as the Colorado On-Site Health & Safety Consultation Program, to offer new information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help protect the health and safety of their workers.
The new partnership will encourage face-to-face interaction between Colorado brewery staff and state safety officials, starting with its first training session in Denver next month. In announcing the new effort, the Brewers Association identified several objectives, including creating new education programs, promoting free resources (including the BA’s Online Brewery Safety Training), increasing the sharing of best practices, and providing free safety and health consultations.
“With a steady expansion and over 400 breweries in Colorado, safety has risen to the top of almost every one of our brewer’s concerns,” Andres Gil Zaldana, executive director of the Colorado Brewer Guild, said in a release. “Our breweries recognize that adopting a culture of safety in their taprooms and brewhouses will help prevent and mitigate accidents at all stages of the beer lifecycle.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Beer enthusiasts rightfully pay attention to the beverage they love, but with so much going on during the transition from grain to glass, an often-missed area of focus is the task of keeping workers safe in a manufacturing environment. At the start of the 2010s, brewing-industry injuries reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics were on a precipitous rise, growing from 160 in 2011 to 530 in 2014—an increase of 231%. Many of these incidents come about in ways that may not be surprising, given that workplaces tend to be full of chemicals, metal, and require heavy lifting.
But a big change came in 2015, when the Brewers Association appointed Matt Stinchfield as its first-ever safety ambassador. Along with promoting dozens of online videos that offered advice on enhancing brewery safety, he also traveled the country to increase general safety awareness and encourage prevention of harm to employees and the public. While there's no way to directly correlate that move to a decrease in reported injuries, numbers reported to the BLS went from 530 in 2014 to 390 in 2015 and 330 in 2016, in line with a similar downward trend for all of the country's beverage manufacturers. However, in 2017—the last year of data available from the government—both beer (39%) and total beverage manufacturing (26%) saw year-to-year increases in injuries for the first time since 2013–2014.
"Overexertion and bodily reaction" and "overexertion in lifting or lowering" are two of the most common injuries reported by breweries to the BLS, and both saw a decline in 2016–2017. Meanwhile, "falls, slips, trips" (60 to 110) and "contact with object, equipment" (60 to 130) increased in that same timeframe.
In announcing the Colorado-based alliance, Stinchfield said that, looking longterm, having more resources available “will drive injury rates downward, while increasing regulatory compliance.” That second reason makes perfect sense. As the U.S. brewery total soars past 7,000, it would seem the industry is in a spot where additional oversight could—and should—be on the horizon.
Back in 2015, at the latest peak of injuries in beer, Michael Francis, owner and brewer at Boise, Idaho’s Payette Brewing Company, said it was only a matter of time before safety became a more commonly discussed issue.
“The bigger this industry becomes, the more eyes will be watching us,” he said. “For a long time, beer has stayed in this, ‘Hey, this is a cool job’ mentality, but now it’s turning into an industry that is about a lot more than just making beer.”
With a jump in reported incidents and the potential for increased attention, now seems to be an ideal time to launch this new collaboration. In a recent interview on the Craft Beer & Brewing podcast, Lazy Magnolia Brewery co-founder and brewer Leslie Henderson said safety is one of the most important areas that occupies her attention, and that she’s surprised that conversations like these don’t happen more often.
“You just have to be vigilant to everything and have a culture where people are not afraid to bring up problems and where safety is not a budget item—safety gets dealt with regardless of the budget,” she told host John Holl. “People need to stop being embarrassed about something happening, about near misses. If you tell somebody about a near-miss, you could save them from dying.”