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OSHA Safety Requirements for Breweries

Craft brewers and micro-brewers are increasingly finding themselves accountable - and liable – for OSHA brewery safety regulations. While CO2 is important, it is only one aspect of brewery safety.

brewing tanks create co2

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. The 1970 OSA Act created OSHA, which sets and enforces protections for employee’s working conditions in any business.

The basic responsibilities of an employer is to be aware of and follow OSHA guidelines for your business. Since all OSHA standards and regulations are free, you cannot claim “I didn’t know” as a reason for not following OSHA guidelines. You can read your list of general responsibilities here.

Is Your Brewery covered by OSHA?

If you have an employee, you are considered covered by OSHA. Federal OSHA regulations cover all 50 states. In addition, about half the states have an OSHA-approved state program, which in some cases are even stricter than the federal regulations.

Classifying employees as independent contractors doesn’t necessarily relieve the brewery owner of liability. While self-employed individuals are not technically covered by the OSHA Act, "Employers cannot evade their responsibility by claiming that workers on a job site are independent contractors" according to a 2016 ruling by an OSHA Administrative Law Judge.

Are OSHA Inspections Common?

OSHA inspections are usually triggered by an accident or fatality in the workplace, or by employee complaints. However, they can also be the result of random inspections.

According to an article in Craft Brewing Business, OSHA is increasingly aggressive in enforcing workplace safety requirements on breweries as employers. In 2016 they placed approximately 700 breweries on a “bad actor list.” Once you’re on the list, you can plan on significantly more OSHA visits and increased fines.

What are the Most Common Violations?

Gabriel Sierra, managing director of Prometrix Safety Consulting says the most common OSHA violations include lockout/tagout and confined spaces accidents. Both these kinds of accidents can happen in breweries where fermenters, grain silos, kettles and other machinery are used.

OSHA standard 1910.146 defines a “permit-required confined space” as:

  1. Is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work; and
  2. Has limited or restricted means for entry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry.); and
  3. Is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.  

In addition, beginning January 8, 2016 OSHA began citing employers who do not follow the Confined Space in Construction Rule.

OSHA defines a confined space as “a space whose configuration and/or contents may present special dangers not found in normal work areas. Confined spaces may be poorly ventilated and, as a result, contain insufficient oxygen or hazardous levels of toxic gases. Working in a tight space can prevent a worker from keeping a safe distance from mechanical and electrical hazards in the space. Fumes from a flammable liquid that is used in a poorly ventilated area can reach explosive levels. Such hazards endanger both the workers in the confined space and others who become exposed to the hazards when they attempt to rescue injured workers. In a number of cases, rescue workers have themselves died or been injured because they did not have the training and equipment necessary to conduct the rescue safely."

This rule is designed to help prevent tragic situations like this recent one where a construction foreman died from asphyxiation after entering a manhole with an uncontrolled hazardous atmosphere.

To help small businesses become compliant, OSHA has published the Small Entity Compliance Guide (pdf). This is a plain language explanation of all aspects of the Confined Space in Construction Rule, including how eliminating or isolating any hazards can allow you to reclassify a permit required confined space as a non-permit confined space.

If you own or work in a brewery, you already have a good idea what a confined space is, and how potentially dangerous they can be.

In addition to confined spaces, ergonomic violations are commonly cited under the OSHA General Duty Clause. This means that worker tasks like transporting kegs or lifting bags must be designed in such a way as to minimize employee hazards. While working in a brewery involves physical labor, it is up to the employer to mitigate the dangers involved with lifting tasks.

One commonly overlooked danger is allowing untrained employees to drive vehicles, especially forklifts. OSHA's requirements for forklifts and powered trucks can be found in “Powered Industrial Trucks 1910.178.” This includes:

  • The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, as demonstrated by the successful completion of the training and evaluation.
  • Training shall consist of a combination of formal instruction (e.g., lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video tape, written material), practical training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee), and evaluation of the operator's performance in the workplace.
  • All operator training and evaluation shall be conducted by persons who have the knowledge, training, and experience to train powered industrial truck operators and evaluate their competence.
  • Certification. The employer shall certify that each operator has been trained and evaluated as required by this paragraph (l). The certification shall include the name of the operator, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation, and the identity of the person(s) performing the training or evaluation.

OSHA Requirements for Breweries

While you should do your own homework, here’s an overview of what OSHA expects you to have in your brewery:

  • Safety data sheets (SDS, formerly MSDS) on all gas and liquids used in the brewery.
  • Instruction in OSHA regulations relating to ergonomics, walking and working surfaces, fall protection, confined spaces, powered industrial trucks, chemical safety and personal protective equipment.
  • A written (and tested) emergency evacuation plan, confined space protocol and chemical safety plan.
  • Know and follow OSHA injury reporting regulations.
  • Develop a process that allows employees to report safety concerns and incidents to the owner without fear of retaliation.
  • Regular safety meetings and training for employees that address all of the above.

For many breweries, the plan can be completed by working with a Safety consultant in combination with the insurance company. Brewers may even be eligible for lower cost insurance once all safety protocols have been completed.

How to Comply with OSHA Regulations

For breweries where money is tight, a good place to start is the free online brewery safety training courses sponsored by the Brewer’s Association. These courses are not only free, but provide testing and certification that proves you or your employees have been trained on safety related issues. In addition, they have a Q&A section where common issues are addressed.

If you have an inspection coming and you aren’t prepared, start by reviewing the

Note these courses are paid for by the members of the Craft Brewers Association, of which CO2Meter is an industry member.

CO2 in Breweries

At craft brew trade shows, we’ve spoken to dozens of people who have either succumbed to carbon dioxide in a beer fermentation tank or they know someone who has.


pocket co2 monitor

Most of the time it’s told as a funny story. The sudden shortness of breath is quickly followed by dizziness. The worker jumps back from the tank and hopes no one notices. Occasionally someone passes out, only to wake up on the floor surrounded by fellow workers who shrug it off as a rite of passage for all brewers. Of course, no one tells the owner. It was a stupid mistake, it was embarrassing, and it’s a lesson not soon forgotten.

I recently asked a friend who is a brew master at a local micro-brewery about the subject. His first response was, “we can’t afford brewery safety equipment.” When I said a pocket CO2 meter didn’t cost a lot, he shrugged.

“We only have 6 tanks,” he said. “I’m the only one who goes into them, and I know which ones can kill me.”

If I was a brewery owner, I’d shudder if one of my employees said this.


co2 alarm remote display

In addition to personal safety, some local municipalities have added the OSHA CO2 TWA (time-weighted average) exposure limits to bulk CO2 storage safety alarm specifications.

To meet this requirement, CO2Meter offers the RAD-0102-6 which includes an alarm that meets OSHA requirements. it was designed to meet the OSHA time-weighted average (TWA) personal exposure limit (PEL) for CO2.

The The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) CAS No. 124-38-9 requirement followed by OSHA says that the average CO2 level a worker can be exposed to over an 8-hour day can be no more than 5,000ppm, and that the short term exposure limit (STEL) can be no more than 30,000ppm (3%). To meet these requirements, a third alarm was added to RAD-0102-6. This alarm is fixed, and cannot be adjusted by the user. 

Still not sure which device you need? Learn more about Selecting the Right CO2 Storage Safety Alarm.


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