Those who own a distillery, or are involved in the management and operation of one, will understand the importance of being aware of, and ensuring protection from, the hazardous fumes that are generated within these types of environments.
The risk involved in the manufacture of alcohol involves sizable manufacturing equipment which can be potentially harmful, both to operate and because of the fumes and vapours that can be emitted into the atmosphere and subsequently impact the environment.
Distillery owners should take a proactive approach to daily operations, specifically when it comes to minimising the risk associated with the ingestion of harmful and toxic gases generated in day to day activities.
Ensuring safety across your operations not only protects workers from the varied risks within their environment, it also ensures that organisations are compliant with the relevant guidance and regulations governing emissions values limits.
The main combustible hazard found within distilleries and breweries is the fumes and vapours produced by ethanol. With the capacity to be emitted from leaks in tanks, casks, transfer pumps, pipes and flexible hoses, ethanol vapour is a very real fire and explosion hazard faced by those in the distillery industry. Once the gas and vapour is released into the atmosphere, it can quickly build and pose a danger to the health of workers. It is worth noting here however, that the concentration required to cause harm to workers’ health has to be very high. With this in mind, the more significant risk from ethanol in the air is that of explosion. This fact reinforces the importance of gas detection equipment to recognise and remedy any leaks straight away, so as to avoid disastrous consequences.
The usage of nitrogen in the distilling and brewing process is similar to the usage of CO2, to protect against oxygenation, improve taste and aroma and extend the lifespan of the end-product. However, there are risks attached to its use, with gas being prone to collect at the bottom of the tanks and the residue to leak out and pose dangers. With these dangers common, it is important for distilleries to invest in a reliable gas detection system that can alert workers to these leakage and spillage dangers, or which have capacity to automatically activate ventilation systems.
Regular maintenance to test for residue and condensation buildup, is also vital to check that unwanted chemicals and liquid do not collect. The use of liquid nitrogen also poses dangers to those in the distilling sector and therefore should only be used in a well ventilated area, complete with oxygen monitors. The expansion process of nitrogen from liquid to gas is often used to remove oxygen from containers, however if there is a leak at this stage there is the risk of asphyxiation and even death. Proper gas detection and monitoring in these areas is a robust way to safeguard workers from these risks.
Carbon dioxide is required in order to create alcohol. During the production process carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar are converted through fermentation. The yeast ingests the carbohydrates and carbon dioxide is born as an odourless, colourless and toxic gas.The gas’s characteristics mean it is hard to identify, and, if undetected, can have incredibly harmful impacts on human health. Depending on the parts per million, CO2 can cause concentration issues, breathing difficulties, headaches, fatigue, tinnitus, blurred vision and a loss of consciousness. At the highest levels of ingestion asphyxiation and death may occur. By ensuring proper venting of fermentation areas and implementing reliable gas detection apparatus, those in the sector can prevent carbon dioxide poisoning and safeguard the health of their workers.
Within the first part of the distilling and brewing process, which comprises the handling, storage and milling of malt grains, dust is created. This dust is flammable and can be dangerous if an extraction system is not in place to remove the dust from the air. Another way to avoid the risks from this dust, is to reduce the potential sources of ignition in the combustible atmosphere. Potential sources include open flames, torch cutting and welding, sparks caused by static, electrical and mechanical sources, hot surfaces, heat from friction and radiant heat.
ATEX and IECEX are the certifications that govern the electrical controls and instrumentation used within the distillery sector. It is important to ensure that the equipment you implement has the industry specific certification, which meets relevant security thresholds and therefore will safeguard the environment and workers within it from the prevalent risk factors.
IECEx is a system of certification used internationally which governs the validity and security of equipment used within explosive atmospheres. The specifications and standards of the certificate are governed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
ATEX certification is derived from the two European directives that govern the reliability and suitability of equipment used in hazardous environments. The ATEX directive is also called the European Directive 2014/34/EU.
As well as making sure the equipment chosen meets relevant standards, distillers also must ensure compliance to the laws governing gas emissions, legal limit values and the occupational health of workers. The ATEX 1999/92/EC Directive and the UK DSEAR 2002 Regulations require employers to ensure workplaces are safe from fire and explosion risk. They cover three basic expectations; to not have a flammable atmosphere, but if you do to avoid ignition, and in the unfortunate case of ignition, to avoid harm befalling anyone involved.