Home Brewery Safety Review

**Originally  presented at the March 15, 2011 Meeting***

This is not a fun topic but it beats a visit to the ER. It’s hard enough to justify our crazy hobby to many people including spouses etc. Think about how much harder it would be if you were injured doing it. Closed toe shoes, some gloves and a pair of safety glasses go a long way towards safe brewing and harmonious relationships.

There is a long list of dangerous activities that go on while brewing and the risks are increased if we sample while we brew. Let’s review some of the more common ones and what we can do to reduce risk.

 

 

Category: DIY Parts Building

Danger

Precautions

Cutting, Drilling and Polishing metal with power tools presents a lot of flying shrapnel and airborne particulates as well as sharp edges that can cut deeply.

Safety glasses, long sleeves and pants, respirator and leather gloves. Earplugs for extended exposure to grinders.

When drilling small pieces of metal, the drill bit may bind and turn your work piece into a spinning blade. Clamp work pieces to a bench or use a bench vise.

Category: Brewing

Danger

Precautions

Using high BTU burners in confined spaces, especially when burning poorly, creates a LOT of carbon monoxide that can asphyxiate without warning.

Always provide adequate ventilation and makeup oxygen when running a burner in a semi-confined space.  Keep burners clean from boil-over clogs and adjust air intake for blue flames. Keep a CO detector in your brewing area and brew completely outside ideally.

Fire Hazards

Keep propane supply hoses, insulating jackets and loose fitting clothing away from the burners.

Keep burners adjusted so flames are not literally licking up the sides of your vessel. It’s wasted fuel anyway.

Always keep a fire extinguisher nearby.

Burns – Steam: Covered heating vessels build up steam pressure that is released when uncovering.

Waterproof gloves with long gauntlets provide partial protection. Anticipate steam burst when at boiling temps.

Burns – Liquid: Opening valves or disconnecting hoses without closing valves spray hot/boiling liquids onto the brewer

Always double check valves prior to disconnecting hoses or switching pumps on. Be aware of pressure in soft hoses such as silicone (regulate flow after pump but prior to hoses).

Burns – Boil Overs: When we see a boil over happening, we instinctively reach for the gas valve which is where boiling wort is dripping.

Keep regulators as far away from the pot as possible. A thermometer installed in the kettle can provide earlier warning that you’re getting close to boil temps so you can turn the heat down.

Burns – Immersion Chiller related: Dropping an IC into a boil without both coolant hoses connected can cause boiling water/steam to spurt out (derived from water leftover from last use).

Store IC upside down to be sure of a full drain and always connect both input/output hoses before dropping it in to heat sanitize. Keep hoses away from burner and be aware that the first rush of output water will be near boiling.

Burns – Liquid Spills. Lifting vessels full of hot liquid for gravity draining can result in 3rd degree burns over a large portion of your body

Don’t do it. Use a pump or anticipate the need for gravity and elevate the burner assembly on a stable platform BEFORE you heat the liquid. If you MUST move the vessel, get someone to help and wear protective gear, gloves, safety glasses.

Burns – Direct Skin Contact with hot objects such as the bottom of a converted keg bottom skirt after a long boil.

See above. Remove some leftover heat from the skirt before moving by spraying with a hose or wiping with a wet rag.

Category: Fermenting

Danger

Precautions

Glass Carboy and Demijohn Breakage can be horribly damaging to human flesh, tendons and nerves requiring multiple surgeries and rehab. Seriously!

 

“Severed 5 tendons in one hand and had over twenty stitches in the other”. “I get to have surgery on my hand to repair the lacerated tendon”. “severed the major nerve in my left thumb and one of the major nerves in my left index finger” http://brewing.lustreking.com/articles/brokencarboys.html

For empty handling, use a carboy handle installed around the neck for one hand and support the bottom with the other.

During cleaning, use extra care due to the slippery washing liquids. Never shake a carboy over a concrete floor.

For carrying full, always use something to distribute the weight and provide sturdy gripping surface such as a 4-gallon milk crate or a “Brewhauler” strap system. Some smaller carboys (3-5 gallon) will also fit into plastic buckets to provide protection and a carry handle.

Sealed Fermentation in a non pressure rated vessel can result in explosions (even if the airlock gets plugged up).

Use a blowoff tube with a minimum of ½” ID for at least the first few day of active fermentation.

CO2 Asphyxiation – Fermenting generates a LOT of CO2 which can reach toxic levels if there is very little air exchange in a confined area. CO2 is heavier than ambient air so basements make it worse.

Don’t ferment too much product in a confined area at the same time. Allow for some airflow to adjoining rooms. Crack a window open now and then. Don’t lean too far into a chest freezer used as a fermentation chamber.  You’ll breathe pure CO2 and it burns!

Category: Packaging

Danger

Precautions

Glass bottles can break while capping. Using a wing capper puts your hands directly over the bottle with a downward force applied. You might impale your hand if you slip and the bottle breaks (see injury pic)

Use only sturdy pop-top bottles and not twist offs that have thinner glass. Place the bottle on a rubber mat or damp towel to keep it from slipping. Use a bench capper if possible as it keeps your hands away from the bottle.

 

Bottle Bombs – Packaging beer that has not finished fermenting, using too much priming sugar, or inappropriate bottles for high carbonation can cause a bottle to explode and create glass shrapnel.

Wait an extra week and use a hydrometer to test gravity before packaging.  Make sure priming solution is adequately mixed. Use champagne or Belgian bottles for high carbonation beers and sours.  Storing your packaged beer in crates or boxes is generally good practice just in case.

 

Examples of Real Brewing-Related Injuries
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Top: Calf burn from carrying hot keggle.

Right: Deep hand laceration from broken bottle while capping with a wing capper.

Bottom Right: burn blisters from grabbing the bottom of a keg to lift for gravity drain. (talk to crazy Frank)

Bottom Left:  Bad burn from adding boiling water to malt extract jug and shaking to dissolve the syrup.

ouch3

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Note: the inspiration for this talk, as well as the pictures above, came from a thread on Homebrewtalk.com. A big thanks to everyone who shared their stories and put this important topic in the forefront.