Today at work I was proof-reading a work health and safety (WH&S) website. My mind was constantly wandering to incidents that related to whichever hazard I was reading about. At first it was funny – the hilarious story of one brewer hitting a building inspector with a forklift. The silliness of a good mate sticking is hand in an active bottling machine and cutting himself to the bone. The same mate not realising that hot water had dripped inside the resulting bandage and burnt his skin.

But after a while I realised nearly all of my stories (and there were a lot) related to brewing. Let’s face it; it’s a dangerous industry. The list of hazards includes boiling water, caustic chemicals, heavy lifting, and industrial equipment, to name just a few. By the processes involved, it is inherently dangerous. But are brewers making it more dangerous?

At Good Beer Week, I heard of two serious incidents that had taken place. One involved a brewer falling from a height onto the concrete fall, cracking his pelvis in two places; he was out of action for weeks. In the second, a brewer had caustic splashed into his eyes; the nearby eyewash station and the assistance of a co-worker prevent permanent damage, but he was still blind for five days.

These incidents were a concern in and of themselves; but more worrying to me was the reaction of a brewing friend when I told him about them and asked about safety in the brewery he used. He laughed and said they couldn’t be bothered with protective eye wear, they’d just fog up and end up taking them off. To avoid an argument, I let the matter drop.

But the stories of injuries keep coming. Recently a brewer had an accident resulting in two severed nerves, two arteries, two tendons, and four broken pieces of bone.

I’m not advocating more legislation, more checks, or more paperwork. God no. More that brewers care about their own safety. The client I’m working on talks about a ‘culture of safety’. Originally, I thought it was a bit of WH&S wank, a way of companies playing lip service to keeping their employees safe. But, after several pages of content, it began to make sense. It’s about placing safety on the same level as getting the job done in terms of investment, effort and importance.

Do breweries have a culture of safety? Or does the ‘She’ll Be Right’ attitude hold sway, causing injuries that could have been prevented?

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