Beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are normally produced under strict sanitary guidelines set by governmental regulations. To meet these guidelines, equipment within beverage plants is constantly cleaned and disinfected with harsh cleaning agents. The copious use of cleaning agents can, in itself, pose health problems to the workers exposed to them in their job duties. Skin and eye contact with the caustic cleansers can cause severe dermatitis. Another concern is that inhalation of the fumes or spray produced when using the cleansers may cause damage to the lungs, nose, mouth or throat. Water or other liquids are commonly found in and around production, making slips and falls a common injury and causing many other injuries simply due to poor traction.
Glass containers, high-speed fillers and overhead conveyors result in a combination of elements that can produce serious harm from flying glass. Cuts and eye injuries are common due to glass breakage. Much of the beverage industry has moved to using larger and larger quantities of aluminium cans and plastic containers; this has reduced the incidence of glass-inflicted injuries. However, in certain countries and specific industries, such as wine and spirits, this has not been the case.
Electrical systems in any industry possess a high degree of potential injury. When mixed with the ever present water in beverage manufacturing, the threat of electrocution becomes extreme. Electrical systems within beverage plants are constantly being reworked as the industry rapidly modernizes with new high-speed equipment that results in increasing exposure.
The manufacturing process in the beverage industry entails the movement of massive quantities of raw materials in bags and barrels, on wooden and plastic pallets; loads of empty bottles and cans; and finished product in a variety of containers. Beverages, being liquid, are naturally heavy. Repetitive-motion injuries due to sorting and inspection of glass bottles and some packaging operations occur frequently. This continuous movement of light and heavy objects presents ergonomic challenges for the beverage industry as well as other industries. The incidence of soft tissue sprain and strain injuries in the United States has risen nearly 400% since 1980, for example. Nations are in different stages of progress in determining preventive measures to reduce these types of injuries.
Modern mechanized equipment has drastically reduced the number of personnel needed to operate the bottling and canning lines, which in itself has reduced the exposure to injury. However, the high-speed conveyers and automatic palletizing and de-palletizing equipment can cause serious, although less frequent, injuries. Personnel tempted to reach into a moving conveyor to put a bottle or can upright can get clothing caught and be dragged into the mechanism. Palletizers and depalletizers can become jammed, and a worker can suffer broken limbs trying to clear the machines.
Modern high-speed equipment has, in most cases, led to increased noise levels, especially at the higher frequencies. Hearing loss caused by workplace noise is classified as a disease, since it occurs insidiously over time and is irreversible. Incidence rates involving hearing loss are increasing. Engineering controls to reduce the noise levels are being tested and used, but enforcement of the wearing of standard hearing protection is still the preferred method used by most employers. New on the horizon is the investigation of the stress on workers due to the combination of high noise levels, 24-hour schedules and the tempo of work.
Confined spaces, such as tanks, casks, vats, wastewater pits and storage or mixing vessels used commonly in beverage manufacturing facilities, have the potential of causing catastrophic injuries. This issue has not received a lot of attention by beverage industry management because most vessels are considered to be “clean” and mishaps occur so infrequently. Although injuries in the types of vessels used by beverage plants are rare, a serious incident can occur due to the introduction of hazardous materials during cleaning operations or from atmospheric abnormalities, potentially resulting in a near or actual fatality. (See the box on confined spaces.)
Most beverage manufacturing facilities have raw material and finished product storage areas. Self-propelled material-handling equipment poses as serious a threat in a production plant as in any warehouse. Injuries involving fork-lift trucks and similar equipment often result in crushing injuries to pedestrian personnel or to the operator if the vehicle overturns. Production plants often entail cramped conditions as expansion of production capability in existing facilities takes place. These cramped conditions are often conducive to a serious accident involving material-handling equipment.
Beverage production usually requires pure water and refrigeration systems. Chemicals used most commonly to satisfy these requirements are chlorine and liquid anhydrous ammonia, respectively, and both are considered extremely hazardous substances. Chlorine is often purchased and stored in pressurized metal cylinders of various sizes. Injuries can occur to personnel during changeover from one cylinder to another or from a leaking or defective valve. An accidental release of anhydrous ammonia can cause burns to the skin and respiratory system on contact. A large, uncontrolled release of anhydrous ammonia can result in air concentrations high enough to explode violently. Emergency systems to detect leaks and automatic ventilation and shut down equipment are used frequently, along with evacuation and response procedures. Chlorine and anhydrous ammonia are chemicals that have strong identifiable odours and are easily detectable in the air. They are considered to have strong warning properties to alert workers of their presence.
Carbon dioxide, most commonly used for pressurization and carbonation, and carbon monoxide, emitted by internal combustion engines, are present in most beverage plants. Beverage filler rooms are usually the most prone to having high levels of carbon dioxide, especially during product changeover procedures. Beverage companies have been increasing the assortment of products offered to the public, so these changeovers occur more frequently, increasing the need for ventilation to exhaust the carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide can be present if fork-lifts or similar equipment are used. A dangerous concentration can accumulate if engines are not operating within manufacturers’ specifications.
Employment in the beverage industry is often seasonal. This is more common in areas of the world with distinct seasons and in northern climates. A combination of worldwide manufacturing trends such as just-in-time inventory control and the use of contract and temporary personnel can have a great impact on safety and health. Often workers employed for short periods of time are not afforded the same amount of safety-related training as permanent employees. In some cases, resultant costs associated with injuries sustained by temporary personnel are not borne by the employer but by an agency supplying the worker to the employer. This has created an apparent “win-win” situation for the employer and the opposite effect on the workers employed in positions such as these. More enlightened governments, employers and trade associations are beginning to look closely at this growing problem and are working on methods to improve the amount and quality of safety training given to workers in this category.
Environmental concerns are not often associated with beverage production, since it is not thought of as a “smokestack industry”. Excluding an accidental release of a hazardous chemical such as anhydrous ammonia or chlorine, the main discharge from beverage production is wastewater. Usually this wastewater is treated prior to entry into the waste stream, so it is rare that a problem occurs. Occasionally a bad batch of product has to be discarded, which, depending on the ingredients involved, may have to be transported away for treatment or greatly diluted before release into the waste system. A large quantity of acidic beverage finding its way into a stream or lake can cause large fish kills and must be avoided.
The increasing use of chemical additives for enhancing flavour, extending shelf life or as a substitute sweetener has raised public health concerns. Some chemicals used as artificial sweeteners are prohibited in some countries because they have been found to be carcinogenic. Most, however, present no apparent health risk to the public. The handling of these raw chemicals and their presence in the workplace has not been studied in enough depth to determine if there are worker exposure risks.