Skip to comments.Redhook Brewery hires investigator to study fatal keg explosion in Portsmouth
Posted on 06/09/2012 3:52:43 AM PDT by billorites
PORTSMOUTH The owners of Redhook Ale Brewery hired an independent investigator to probe the cause of a keg explosion that fatally wounded an employee in April.
Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., Redhook's parent company, provided new information about the industrial accident last week in a communication sent to members of the brewing industry.
In a June 1 message, CEO Terry Michaelson wrote CBA has not yet determined what caused the plastic keg to explode, killing an employee who was cleaning the vessel with compressed air.
With the source of the keg failure still a mystery, CBA hired an independent investigator to assess the keg and cleaning equipment involved in the accident, according to Michaelson. Federal inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are still investigating the incident.
One factor complicating the investigation is that there were no witnesses to the 7 a.m. explosion, according to Michaelson. He wrote the company might never be able to ascertain the exact cause.
In the wake of the April 24 blast, several brewers around New England were perplexed by the accident, which stands out as one of the only instances of a work-related keg explosion most beer industry veterans can recall.
The incident raises eyebrows in the brewing community because Redhook officials said it involved a plastic keg, rather than a traditional stainless steel keg the industry standard for several decades.
"Although we are still awaiting conclusions from OSHA, we recognize the importance of sharing information about the accident with the brewing industry in hopes of preventing similar accidents," Michaelson wrote.
Based on a preliminary investigation, Redhook believes the worker was in the process of emptying the keg in order to stack it on a pallet when it blew apart.
"We empty the kegs in order to increase their stability when stacked on a pallet before being returned to their respective owners," Michaelson wrote.
He continued, "For years, this process for emptying kegs has been performed without incident in a substantially identical manner at the Redhook Brewery and all of our other breweries."
When the keg ruptured, it split into two pieces, bursting at the middle seam where the two halves of the keg were joined, according to Michaelson.
The keg involved in the accident was not owned by Redhook or any other brewery under the Craft Brew Alliance umbrella, the company has said. The keg was delivered to the brewery in error as part of a delivery of empty keg returns.
The keg wasn't clearly marked with the manufacturer's name, but CBA is in contact with a manufacturer believed to have produced the keg.
"In the meantime, CBA remains committed to safety at all four of our brewery locations," Michaelson wrote. "Our safety manager and local safety coordinators continue to hold monthly on-site meetings with each of our brewing and operations teams. Ongoing training remains a top priority for our team."
CBA is also planning to make investments in safety equipment this year and hire outside safety consultants, according to Michaelson's message.
"We will continue to work toward improving safety at all brewery locations to ensure that we provide the safest work environment possible for all of our employees," he wrote.
OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said an investigation was launched into the accident, but declined to discuss the inquiry while the process is ongoing.
The Redhook Ale Brewery in Portsmouth has never been cited for a workplace safety violation, according to information available from OSHA.
Michaelson concluded the June 1 message by thanking members of the craft beer and brewing communities for their support and patience in the wake of the tragedy.
The company is tentatively planning to brew a memorial beer to celebrate the life of Ben Harris, the Pennsylvania native killed in the accident.
"More than anything, we hope that the information we're able to share in the wake of this tragic accident contributes to greater awareness about safety and to safer work environments throughout the industry."
What does that mean?
This story caught my eye because my oldest grandson is working at a brewery in NY during his summer break from college this year. It is overnight work, and he is charged with unloading the trucks full of empties and then reloading them so that they are ready to go out first thing in the morning on their rounds. Hours are crummy, but it pays well. I'm sure that cleaning the kegs will be part of the job.
I wouldn’t want ‘that’ beer.
Regardless, why would there be that much pressure in ANY keg?
I wonder if some one put something else in the keg after it was empty.
Failure analysis will uncover easily where the initial rupture began about the tear and other physical properties’ analysis will determine if it was under significant load, prolongoned load or not. I can’t imagine this will remain unsolved and unexplained if a real materials analysis lab gets inolved. Hopefully standard procedures for handling/emptying these were followed, but who’d want to admit that after the poor fellow died if they fear it would cost his family or themselves. A smart CEO might already have promised otherwise if just for industry safety and the knowledge.
Eric Holder to investigate if race is involved. Congress to investigate to see if steroids were a factor.
I'm surprised that there isn't the equivalent of a burst disk as a safety precaution to relieve excess pressure
Don't worry ... he's working in the warehouse and the keg cleaning is usually an automated brew house process in modern breweries
Plastic keg + compressed air? Simple answer: this Darwin Award winner introduced high pressure air into the keg — without providing a means for it to escape...
Thanks. That eases my mind. Fork lift, away!
Basically it means I don’t trust plastic.
Give me the old fashioned kegs.
I would say we have a pretty good idea what happened from that single sentence.
Without seeing the keg, I'm "ass.u.ming." that there's an inlet and an outlet or vent of some sort.
If that's the setup and you aren't getting any or insufficient drainage, then stop. There's a problem/obstruction of the outlet.
The remedy wouldn't be, "Keep pumping air until it blows".
Here's another article.
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. The untimely death last month of a local brewery worker has left unanswered questions for some beer producers around the country, who remain unsettled by the news that a plastic keg somehow ruptured and fatally wounded a Redhook Ale Brewery employee.
The worker died of injuries suffered on April 24 when a plastic keg he was cleaning exploded, striking him in the chest and head, according to officials from the Portsmouth Fire Department.
In the wake of the blast, several brewers around New Hampshire were perplexed by the accident, which stands out as one of the only instances of a work-related keg explosion that most beer industry veterans can recall.
Of the 12 brewers, microbrewery owners, beer distributors and industry experts interviewed by Fosters Daily Democrat in the past month including employees of Smuttynose Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, Otter Creek Brewing in Vermont, Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine, and Tuckerman Brewing Co. in Conway, N.H. none could recall another instance of a keg exploding inside a brewery.
The incident also has raised eyebrows in the brewing community because Redhook officials said it involved a plastic keg, rather than a traditional stainless steel keg the industry standard for several decades.
Craft Brew Alliance Inc., which owns Redhook, has released little other information about the circumstances of the industrial accident, indicating that further details will be released at the conclusion of a full investigation.
Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said an investigation has been launched into the accident, but declined to discuss the inquiry while the process is ongoing. He said its still too early to estimate when it will conclude.
Since the early 1970s, breweries such as Redhook have relied on beer containers made of stainless steel, which can be hooked up to tap lines at bars and restaurants. However, a handful of commercial brewers in the United States have begun using plastic beer kegs for distribution.
While plastic beer kegs have been in use in Europe for some time ostensibly more than a decade their introduction into the American market largely wasspearheaded by a British company called CypherCo., which established a manufacturing operation for full-sized beer kegs in California.
The company operates in the United States under the name Plastic Kegs America.
Pat Ringe, co-owner and brewmaster at Diamond Knot Brewing Co. in Mukilteo, Wash., said the company recently switched its entire line of old stainless steel kegs to plastic vessels from PKA.
While theres no indication a PKA product was involved in the Redhook accident, Ringe said hes very, very curious to find out as much as possible about the incident.
Hopefully theyll share every detail about what happened, Ringe said. I have to think that there was a series of mechanical failures or, God forbid, operator error. I dont know. But given that we have about 2,000 of these kegs in our fleet, and theyve been far from trouble free Im very interested to find out what the story is and what they want to do about it.
When they began receiving the plastic kegs 15 months ago, Ringe said the manufacturing quality was inconsistent and about 1,000 of the kegs had to go back to the manufacturing facility to be reworked at least twice some three times.
The primary issue was the size of the kegs, many of which didnt fit in the automatic keg-washer used by the brewery. A few were leaking because valves were accidentally threaded into the plastic shell, while others had substandard valves, or broken handles, Ringe said.
Since then, Plastic Kegs America has addressed the quality problems, Ringe said, and Diamond Knot has been pleased with the performance of the products at its three restaurants.
The brewery also distributes beer kegs to bars and restaurants in Washington state. At any given time, the brewery has about 700 kegs of beer distributed around the state, Ringe said.
Im interested to find out what happened [at Red Hook], Ringe said, and if it was a mechanical failure of some sort, or if the guy was doing something out of the ordinary.
In an interview last week, Redhook spokesman Ted Lane confirmed the employee who was killed was engaged in routine activities when the keg burst.
[He] was going about, you know, normal daily activities, Lane said, which included emptying kegs as part of our cleaning process.
In April, Redhook released a statement saying the plastic keg was not owned by Redhook or any other brewery under the Craft Brew Alliance Inc. umbrella.
Lane said the brewery will not comment on how it received the plastic keg. He also declined to comment on whether Redhook has ascertained who manufactured the keg, or whether the keg was intended for beer or soda.
In a message posted on the website probrewer.com shortly after the April 24 incident at Redhook, Plastic Kegs America sales manager Darcie Symons said the company offers its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those involved in the Portsmouth accident.
While Redhook is not a client of Plastic Kegs America, the company has contacted Redhook to gain clarification, Symons wrote, and PKA was advised that no new information would be released for some time.
We are prepared to help in any way possible to help find the cause of this accident, Symons wrote on the website, continuing, Like many in the tight-knit craft brewing community, we want to understand the circumstances of this accident and take any precautions we can to ensure that it wont happen again.
Contacted by Fosters earlier this month, Symons declined to offer any comment about Plastic Kegs America or its products.
The only thing that we can say is that our sympathies we have deep, deep sympathies in regard to the accident, she said. Were being cooperative with the investigation, and until further information is learned, we cant make any comment.
A financial disclosure form filed by Craft Brew Alliance with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sheds a small amount of light on the situation. It states the plastic keg was erroneously delivered to Redhook as part of a shipment of used kegs, which is a fairly common occurrence in the industry.
Although they dont have direct knowledge of the situation, several brewers who were interviewed by Fosters explained that beer kegs are often lost or misplaced while being shipped back and forth by third-party beer distributors.
Breweries such as Redhook rely on distributors to circulate their beer kegs to bars and restaurants. Those same distributors are responsible for collecting empty beer kegs and returning them to the breweries where they originated.
However, its common for distributors to make mistakes and pass along extra kegs that dont belong to the brewery, according to Tuckerman Brewing Co. President Nik Stanciu.
Stanciu said this is the most likely explanation for why Redhook would have possession of a third-party keg.
For Dylan Lintern, vice president of New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Co., the products offered by Plastic Kegs America were appealing in part because of an added safety feature a pressure release valve, which is built into the bottom of all kegs. The valve hypothetically shouldprevent the plastic keg from building up sufficient pressure to explode, he said.
Lintern said NOLA launched three years ago solely with plastic kegs and now owns roughly 4,000 of them.
Lintern said he has seen pressure release valves pop off of the kegs in the past when theyre dropped from tall heights such as off the back of a truck but never witnessed an explosion.
We have had nothing even close to that happening, he said. NOLA Brewing ships beer kegs throughout all of Alabama and Louisiana, and parts of the Florida panhandle, Lintern said.
During the companys three years in business, the only problem it has experienced is with broken handles on the kegs, he said, calling the Redhook blast a disconcerting development.
The River Company Restaurant & Brewery in Radford, Va., uses approximately 75 kegs from Plastic Kegs America. Mike Pensinger, chief brewer, said the company has used plastic for about three years with no trouble.
I have a bunch of them, he said. I love them.
The River Company is a relatively small-scale operation, but the brewery does sell some kegs to restaurants and bars through the distribution network, Pensinger said. The plastic kegs have all stood up to the rigors of travel on the distribution network as well as stainless steel kegs, he said.
Earlier this month, beer producers from around the country gathered in San Diego for the annual Craft Brewers Conference. The tragedy at Redhook came as sobering to attendees, according to Steve Bradt, brewmaster at the The Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, Kansas, who also serves as chairman of the events committee for the annual conference.
Its a very tight-knit community, so everyone is very concerned and very curious as to what the root cause of it is, and whether there are larger issues that need to be addressed with it, he told Fosters earlier this month. But I think we have to wait a little bit more before we can really assess anything about that. Everything else is just conjecture.
FWIW,Here's a link to Plastic Kegs America's site, just for reference, as stated, it's not know if a PKA keg was the one that burst.
(Source URL: http://www.stpats.com/images2006/BarrelSprayHead.jpg
"Barrel Cleaning Nozzle $69 304 Stainless Steel. 3/4" FPT. Outside diameter 1.4" Spins best in vertical position (either up or down). "Pressure/Flow: 20-40 psi and 8-15 GPM"
"Maintenance of all spray balls. Lubricate periodically with food grade silicone spray. Be sure to rinse well with water after cleaning. Always lubricate after cleaning."
Replacement bearing and snap ring $18 "