Not many know this but when I finished college 17 years ago, I started my career as a Gas Field Operator...that means I worked in compressor stations and well sites, keeping them maintained and running smoothly. Back then there wasn't much propensity for safety unfortunately and although we would take the "required courses" to be safe, what I realized quickly was that most operators felt they were invincible or maybe too cool for safety...me included I suppose. I mean lets face it, when hauling around barrels of compressor oil or doing anything requiring a little muscle and you start to sweat and your safety glasses fog up while the hard hat just keeps falling on the floor...so often they were just left in my truck.
I can remember one time when I didn't bother to wear my coveralls into a facility (it was a smoking hot day) and had to change a glycol filter for a dehy unit (yes I did that)...I isolated the filter, bled the pressure off and was opening up the casing when a blast of unexpected pressure (and glycol) hit me straight in the face and chest.
For those who don't know, Glycol (or Triethylene Glycol) is a chemical used for the removal of water vapour from natural gas streams (think of antifreeze in your car) and for the transfer of heat (think coolant). In a gas facility like I was working in, water is removed from gas streams to protect the pipelines shipping that gas from corrosion and hydrate formation - both of which can be extremely dangerous to the regular operation of pipelines...sorry, I got a bit technical there...
With glycol covering my face and chest (except my eyes - fortunately I was wearing my safety glasses), I got a quick and hard lesson in safety as was in a single moment fully exposed to all of the dissolved hydrocarbons that were lurking in that filter.
So why do I tell you ALL of this? Because although I'm no longer operating in a gas field, I'm now in the brewing arena and here to, there are many hazards that I will be protecting myself from...one that isn't discussed much is Grain Dust and as I sit here with a grain-dust induced cough, it seems important to talk about.
Once thought of as nothing more than a "nuisance" dust, it's now known that Grain Dust, when exposed for even short periods of time, can cause respiratory issues like decreased lung function and chronic bronchitis.
Over the past couple of weeks, recipe production around here has skyrocketed because of course, summer beer season is almost here and everyone is stocking up to brew their summer lawnmower ales in time for enjoying in the sun! During production however, I did not use anything to protect myself from the dust produced during milling up the malts used in our recipes...you would think after the glycol situation I would have learned my lesson...but to be totally honest, I hadn't considered it a hazard before...just wasn't paying attention I guess.
So for those of you out there that are milling up your own malt in preparation to brew or are working in the brewing industry (like us), it wouldn't hurt to consider some protective measures.
Here are a couple of measures that can be taken to protect yourself:
Wear a respirator or particulate mask ANYTIME YOU ARE MILLING OR HANDLING GRAINS in a way that induces dust exposure
Install a dust removal system (dust collector and exhaust fan) in your facility or find a way to ventilate the area you handle grains and milling
Maybe it's obvious to you that these are the answers to managing a grain dust hazard and it's likely you already knew, so the real reason I've written this post is to remind you not to wait until you get what some term "white lung" to decide you're worth protecting :)