Columnists Features

Breweries shouldn’t renege on workers’ safety

THE notion of breweries as potentially dangerous work places is not necessarily something that would occur to many people outside the industry. The question is, when does safety take a position of importance in a brewery? As we have come to know, most craft brewers start out small.

And through expansion and growth of product market, find that one day, they are no longer a “small business” but in fact, have a significant number of employees. Yes, breweries are renown for supplying beverages to the market, that entertain people but it can be easy to forget that breweries are manufacturers, and that the people working in these facilities are dealing with difficult and dangerous equipment. For instance, eight people suffered serious and minor injuries at Chat Breweries in Luanshya when an explosion sent a massive boiler crashing and slammed much of the neighbouring structures some six hundred meters from the plant. This was the second time, an accident of this nature occurred at this plant in one year. Initial assessment carried by our department of occupational health and safety point to some engineering defects for possible cause of the explosion.

Although we have scanty knowledge on the explosion, we shall endeavor to work with Chat Breweries to conduct a thorough assessment of the work environment and provide technical advice on best preventive measures for the future. Nonetheless, the explosion serves to provide learning experience to us and many other firms in the brewery business that brewery business is not without its own hazards, it is not just about producing alcoholic beverages. Therefore, it is important to put in place appropriate safety measures for those that produce the most sought after beverage. When things go wrong at breweries, they can go very wrong. Reports of horrific accidents including amputations, electrocutions, chemical exposure, and carbon monoxide poisoning, have emerged from this sector over the years.
We have information about a brew master who was cleaning and sanitising beer kegs with boiling hot water from a hose connected to a hot water tank. A beer keg had not been properly purged to relieve internal pressure, and when the brew master opened the gate valve, the beer keg, pressurised with 16 to 18 psi of carbon dioxide gas, caused boiling hot water in the tank to overflow from the top of the tank. Approximately, five gallons of hot boiling water spilled onto an employee causing second degree burns to his legs, back and arms. And we all know that there would be no beer to drink, if the one who produces it is injured, there would no profit or loss to make for the managers of the brewing plant, if the one who produces it is injured. And there would also be no share increases or dividend for the shareholders, if the one who produces beer is injured. Therefore, safety in brewing plants is a matter of common concern, it must not join the endless list of the tragedy of the commons, in which what is common to all receives the least attention. A mind set change is required for many people regarding safety. Safety is a matter that concerns all of us, especially in work places. It is not for safety officers only, it is our responsibility and in our view it comes before profits.
Suffice it to state that the victims of the explosion at Chat Breweries have received medical attention, and an accident report has been made to our office in Luanshya for compensation purposes. If the accident will result in temporary or permanent disability of the workers involved, appropriate compensation will be awarded including a full refund of all medical expenses that will result from treatment and hospitalisation. The accident has been reported in line with the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act No 10 of 1999 of the Laws of Zambia. The act requires employers to report accidents or diseases within three days of gaining knowledge to the commissioner for compensation purposes. This does not often apply to most accidents as some employers are in the habit of reporting accidents long after they have occurred and contribute to the delays in settlement of compensation claims.
Chat Breweries is registered with the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board. The employer is absorbed from liabilities that otherwise would arise from civil claims for compensation. It is not the responsibility of Chat Breweries to compensate the injured workers, as that is passed on to the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board by registration of the business with the board. Assuming that the employer was not registered, as the case is with those who have circumvented the Workers’ Compensation Act, and an accident of this nature occurs, penalties would have applied to the employer.
The author is head-communication and customer service at the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board.


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