Employment in craft breweries and distilleries continues to increase in the U.S., but safety measures in the industry require improvement. According to the Brewers Association, more than 191,000 people worked making craft beer in 2023. The number of people earning a paycheck distilling craft spirits reportedly rose by 9 percent from 2020 to 2023.

Unfortunately, those tasked with making some of the finest alcoholic beverages suffer debilitating on-the-job injuries. Given the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of these industries is expected to exceed 18 percent between 2020 and 2025, the need for brewery and distillery protective clothing is critical.

Increased Need for Distillery and Brewery Safety Clothing

The rise in microbrew popularity can be traced back to the 1990s. Prior to that decade, homebrewing was more of a novelty, and commercial craft brewers were a rarity. Similarly, there were only about 450 craft distilleries just 10 years ago.

Today, the industry enjoys more than 2,300 distilleries and over 9,900 craft breweries. From a safety standpoint, more operations need an inventory of brewery and distillery protective clothing than ever before.

Common Brewery and Distillery Safety Risks

The number of workplace injuries and illnesses has spiked in recent years. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations increased by 57 percent since 2010. That’s an eye-raising statistic when framed in the context that companies with 10 or fewer employees are not necessarily required to catalog and report work-related incidents. These rank among the most prevalent OSHA violations in breweries and distilleries.

Confined Spaces

Breweries and distilleries require vigilant cleaning, and a wide variety of tasks require employees to work in confined spaces. These spaces typically include climbing into the following:

  • Fermenters
  • Grain Silos
  • Vats
  • Kettles
  • Mash Tuns

Based on OSHA guidelines, organizations may need to obtain a permit before workers can conduct duties in these spaces and other confined areas. Breweries and distilleries must demonstrate that the space is large enough for someone to enter, carry out the required tasks, and exit in an emergency. Employees cannot spend extended periods inside the confined space.

Precautions such as a buddy system and CO2 monitors are needed to safeguard against carbon dioxide poisoning. Breweries and distilleries are also prone to ammonia accumulation. Ammonia is a toxic, flammable, and reactive chemical that can result in chemical explosions. Workers should also receive adequate confined space training and wear appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment.

Ergonomic Injuries

Brewing and distilling processes call for routine heavy lifting that includes elevating bagged products, kegs, and oak barrels that can weigh between 90- and 110-pounds when empty. While OSHA does not necessarily have a specific regulation for proper ergonomic lifting and carrying, industry insiders have taken proactive measures to warn employees.

The use of back braces, belts, supports, and other orthopedic tools can help reduce sprains, strains, and injuries from repetitive motions. Education on proper lifting techniques, establishing weight limits for tasks, the buddy system, or reducing the weight limit per task can all help reduce ergonomic injuries as well.

Unsafe Work Conditions

The National Safety Council reports that hundreds of thousands of workers have been seriously injured due to slips and falls. Breweries and distilleries have all the elements to create a perfect storm for such accidents. These include working on ladders, wet floors, slippery equipment, and trip hazards to name a few.

Workers must also be aware that moving parts and equipment can grab hold of loose pants and sleeves, potentially dragging extremities into harm’s way. Conditions inside these facilities expose workers to hot liquids and surfaces, steam, and chemical agents that may cause burns or prove fatal if inhaled.

Breweries and distilleries also utilize an enormous amount of energy to create craft beers and spirits. It’s essential for safety managers to ensure electrical systems comply with regulations and make any and all repairs to frayed wiring or faulty components. Electricity must also be shut down completely when employees are tasked with cleaning and sanitizing equipment and surfaces.

Hazardous & Flammable Disaster

Although the craft beer and spirits industries continue to make worker safety strides, brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf suffered extensive burns and injuries when the sector was just getting its legs. In 1989, she reportedly took a position at the upstart Golden Gate Brewing Company when an accident left her with burns over 11 percent of her body.

Only two months after the facility opened, a 7-barrel system was used to produce 10 barrels. Setting the system to boil water, she would then add 50 gallons of mash. The system was not designed to drain the boiling liquid appropriately. That meant shortcuts and workarounds were needed.

While wearing only rubber gloves and boots, the system gave way. The entire 50 gallons of boiling water rushed out, and she was trapped in a confined area. Her near-fatal accident serves as a teachable incident regarding the need for safety training and hazard awareness, as well as the need for organizations to ensure employees wear the correct distillery and brewery safety clothing and equipment.

Brewery and Distillery Protective Clothing & Safety

Educating brewery and distillery personnel about workplace dangers and the importance of disposable personal protective clothing and safety equipment gives them the tools and insight to work shifts without incident.

Beer and spirits operations pose specific dangers that call for brewery and distillery protective clothing. These are ways manufacturers can help keep their valued employees safe.

  • Corrosive Chemicals: The concentrated acids and sanitization chemicals used to clean tanks, hoses, equipment, and work areas require the use of personal protective clothing. Rubber gloves, boots, eye protection, hoods, and chemical-resistant suits that cover the entire body (no exposed skin) are critical.
  • Wet Surfaces: Spillage and cleanup routinely create liquid slip hazards. Rubber boots and footwear with added traction should be worn for work on wet and slippery surfaces.
  • Moving Parts: Breweries and distilleries utilize equipment with moving parts. It’s also common to have workers transport kegs, barrels, and products with forklifts and other machinery. When selecting an inventory of disposable protective clothing, it’s critical to onboard products that are not excessively loose. Properly fitted safety clothing can prevent a worker from getting snagged and injured by moving parts and machinery.
  • Boiling Liquids: Boiling water reaches 212 degrees. Brewery and distillery protective clothing must be able to tolerate contact with boiling liquids. Brewers and distillers need insulation from extreme heat. Employers would be well-served to consider fire-resistant protective clothing as well as eye protection.

Breweries and distilleries continue to be cited for OSHA protective clothing and equipment violations. One common violation involves failing to provide adequate eye and face safety equipment as outlined under OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.133(a)(1) regulations.

Industry leaders who are invested in the safety of their employees have a responsibility to maintain an inventory of safety clothing, accessories, and equipment.