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Dark side of the craft brew craze: workplace injuries and deaths

Not that long ago, the American beer industry was a monolithic industry dominated by a handful of national companies. To craft beer affciondos, the absence of taste options made this a vast wasteland.

And so the craft brew industry was born. It is widely credited with opening many Americans' taste buds to options beyond Bud. But it has come with a serious downside: worker safety issues at the brewing facilities that make the beer. Indeed, there were on average four workplace deaths in craft breweries from 2009 to 2012. That is twice as many deaths as at larger breweries that account for ten times as much beer production.

The issues craft brewery workers face, then, are common to their industry. In Maryland and across the nation, the founders of these niche breweries have generally been much better on creating innovative brews than at protecting worker safety as well as in the more traditional brewing industry. 

In one such industrial accident in Tennessee, a welder who was working to repair a crack in a fermentation tank suffered burns that were so severe that they became fatal. The space where he had been asked to work had an excessive supply of oxygen, causing his welder's torch to set off a conflagration.

To be sure, all injuries in craft breweries are not so catastrophic. But the overall number is quite large, considering the relative size of the industry. State and federal safety regulators found well over 500 safety violations at craft breweries in the years from 2003 to 2011. This was more than three times as many violations as at large breweries.

Source: Reuters, "Insight: Fast-growing U.S. craft brewers struggle with worker safety," M.B. Prell, July 12, 2013

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