Insight: Fast-growing U.S. craft brewers struggle with worker safety

Fri Jul 12, 2013 2:12pm EDT
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By M.B. Pell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Welder Mark Moynihan crawled down a narrow tube into a space the size of a car interior to seal the crack in the fermentation tank at Calhoun's Bar-B-Q & Brewery in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The space was oversaturated with oxygen. He lit his torch, and a flash-fire erupted. His hair and clothing disintegrated instantly.

Moynihan, a contractor for the craft brewery, dragged himself up the tube and out of the vat while still on fire, suffering serious burns over much of his body. He died 75 days after the 2009 accident, just before his 40th birthday, said his widow, Kim Moynihan.

It was not an isolated incident.

From 2009 through 2012, at least four people died in craft brewery accidents in the United States, compared with two deaths at large breweries that make 10 times more beer, according to a Reuters analysis of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration data and local media reports.

There were also nearly four times as many safety violations at craft breweries in recent years than at large breweries. And brewery experts say the safety oversight at smaller companies is worse than official statistics might suggest because injuries, even severe ones, often go unreported.

"It was horrific," Kim Moynihan said. "It was an accident, but it was an avoidable accident."

She sued Copper Cellar, claiming the owner of the brewery and a small chain of Calhoun's restaurants in the Knoxville area created a dangerous work environment, according to court documents. She settled for an undisclosed amount but said she could not discuss the settlement further because of a nondisclosure agreement.   Continued...

An undated family handout photo shows Mark Moynihan working on his home beer brewing system in Knoxville, Tennessee. REUTERS/Courtesy of the Moynihan Family/Handout via Reuters