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Workplace Safety Has Been Low Priority at Craft Breweries

Many people in New York City enjoy the results of the craft beer trend. This phenomenon is nation-wide, and New York participates enthusiastically. There are more than a dozen members of the New York City Brewers Guild, with more in the pipeline. Drinking locally produced beer is good for the economy, provides jobs, and tastes great. But do we stop to consider the underside of the draft brewing industry? It turns out that workplace safety is sometimes an afterthought in craft breweries.

The newspaper in Milwaukee, a city that takes beer very seriously, published an article recently about the dangers of the craft brewing industry. From 2009 to 2012, four workers died in craft brewery accidents in the U.S. Compare that with two fatal injuries at the large breweries that produce 10 times as much beer. In addition, safety violations were almost four times greater at small breweries.

And industry experts suggest that in reality the numbers are even worse, because injuries often go unreported. This is not because breweries are trying to hide anything. Rather, it reflects the inexperience of owners who often don't know that state and federal laws require them to report injuries.

Insurance company experts say that the rapid growth in the industry has caused workplace safety to be often overlooked. In this, small breweries are similar to any small manufacturing enterprise, started by someone with a passion, rather than a background in industrial safety or operations.

State and OSHA inspectors found 250 serious safety violations at small breweries between 2003 and 2011. These violations ranged from not enclosing chains to not turning off machinery when employees were working inside. In contrast, large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and Coors had 69 serious violations during the same time.

In addition to lacking knowledge about reporting requirements, the entrepreneurs who operate craft breweries are frequently unaware of the need for safety training. As a result, many brewery workers lack even the most rudimentary knowledge of sound workplace safety procedures.

However, things may be slowly getting better. More companies are paying for employee safety training and classes. At a craft beer conference last year in San Diego, 250 people attended a lecture on workplace safety.

Source: JSOnline, "Fast-growing U.S. craft brewers struggle with worker safety," Jul. 14, 2013.

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