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April 22, 2013
Will that be red or white with your safety program? Washington publishes resource for wineries

Winemaking can be a great boost to local economies. But in recent years, the wine industry, which is largely made up of family-owned businesses, has experienced safety problems. These issues, which range from problems with ammonia refrigeration systems to confined space dangers and amputation hazards, have resulted in worker injuries and deaths.

Wineries looking for additional safety and health guidance might find something they can use in a new online resource published by the Washington State Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Because winery visits are a popular tourist activity, wineries should also proactively address visitor safety issues.

Common winery hazards

Hazards common to wineries include:

Augers and conveyers. Augers, sometimes called screw receivers, are used to move freshly delivered grapes into a crusher. When the grapes leave the crusher, they may be moved by another auger into a must pump.

Augers can pose a caught in/crushed by or amputation hazard to workers. In 2007, a worker in Modesto, California lost his leg in a winery screw auger. Conveyer lines present throughout the winery can pose pinching or entanglement hazards to workers.

To protect workers, employers must:

  • Ensure that augers, including exposed flightings, and the pinch points of conveyers are guarded.
  • Ensure that augers and conveyors are locked out during maintenance, or whenever guards are removed.
  • Require workers to wear close-fitting clothing and tie back long hair. They should also avoid jewelry, especially necklaces, bracelets, and dangling earrings, which can become caught in machinery.

Hazardous chemicals. Winery workers may encounter hazardous chemicals, including:

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which may be used during the crushing and racking stages of production as well as for sanitizing barrels, can be irritating and corrosive to the eyes and respiratory tract.
  • Ammonia is used as a refrigerant in many wineries. It is toxic and potentially deadly in high concentrations.
  • Ozone is sometimes used to sanitize tanks, barrels, and surfaces in the winery. It is an eye and respiratory irritant.
  • Diatomaceous earth (DE) is used for filtering wines before bottling. Because it is easily crumbled and contains silica, exposed workers are at risk of silicosis and lung cancer.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) is generated during the fermentation process and used for sparging tanker trucks. It can displace oxygen and create an asphyxiation hazard for workers.

To protect workers, employers must:

  • Ensure that they have safety data sheets (SDSs) available for all hazardous chemicals in the workplace;
  • Provide training in chemical hazards and safe work practices to employees; and
  • Provide engineering controls, including gas-detection systems and mechanical ventilation, in areas where hazardous chemicals are present.

Confined spaces. Workers might enter fermentation tanks to dig out seeds and skins, or they may enter presses to perform maintenance and cleaning. If these vessels meet the definition of permit-required confined spaces, they may present mechanical hazards, oxygen-deficient atmospheres, or other hazards to workers.

To protect workers, employers must:

  • Survey the workplace to identify any permit-required confined spaces;
  • Clearly identify permit-required confined spaces, and make it clear that employees cannot enter those spaces unless they have received training and completed the entry permit process;
  • Create a confined space entry permit program that complies with OSHA’s permit-required confined space standard for general industry employers; and
  • Create any additional programs needed for safe entry, including lockout/tagout programs or hot work permit programs.
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