Perhaps you’ve heard about injuries sustained by professional brewers while they were working.
For example, in April 2012, a Redhook Brewery employee died from injuries he sustained when a plastic keg he was cleaning with pressurized air exploded. And this past August, Stone Brewing's Brewer Matt Courtright died when the forklift he was driving rolled. OSHA’s database of other brewing-related accidents includes injuries related to carbon monoxide poisoning, electrical shock, falling from towers, and exposure to dangerous chemicals.
But do you think of your homebrewing as a hazardous endeavor? Brewing your own beer in your basement, kitchen, or garage may not carry quite the same level of risk as skydiving or mountain climbing, but it pays to understand the comparatively few hazards. With a little planning, they’re almost completely preventable.
If you brew with friends, attend homebrew club meetings, or take part in homebrew rallies, the riskiest part of your day is very likely the drive home. Select a designated driver or stick to one or two session beers over the course of the day, and make sure you’re alert and sober before you get behind the wheel.
A 5-gallon batch of wort or beer weighs more than forty pounds, not including the brew kettle or carboy. And homebrew vessels are usually awkward to lift. So lift carefully, use gravity or a pump to transfer liquids when possible, and get help from someone else when necessary.
Burns and Scalds
From grabbing a pot handle with your bare hands to getting splashed with hot, sticky wort, working with oversized kettles of boiling liquid can be dangerous. Always keep a couple of oven mitts on hand for picking up pots, and invest in a long-handled mash paddle or stirring rod in case you need to fish something out of the brew kettle.
A wet, slippery glass carboy filled with five or more gallons of beer is an accident waiting to happen. Not only will you lose precious beer, but more than a few homebrewers have had to seek emergency care due to injuries sustained from broken glass. Invest in a good handle for your glass carboys (always support the bottom!), and consider switching to plastic carboys, which are virtually indestructible.
Another source of broken glass, over-carbonated bottles have the added hazard of pressure. Remember that most beer bottles are designed to handle only moderate carbonation. If you need lots of bubbles in a Hefeweizen or saison, use stronger bottles or keg it. Always make sure priming sugar is completely mixed, and don’t forget to rotate your empty bottle stock every now and then.
Many brewers use at least one electrical appliance in the course of a brew day. Make sure any pumps, heating elements, control panels, and other electrical devices are plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet when you're working with liquids to reduce the chance that you could be electrocuted.
Advanced do-it-yourself brewers may also encounter welding, soldering, high-pressure gas supplies, and other industrial hazards. If you feel sufficiently competent to undertake such activities, make sure you understand how to do so safely. When you take basic precautions, your brew day will be both enjoyable and safe.