Keith Miller and why his story should matter to brewers...


If you don’t know who Keith Miller is and you own or operate a brewery, you might want take a few minutes to read this BLOG because his story may change how you do things going forward…

In this day and age we can be inundated with messages about safety. Companies have even gone so far as to tie an annual bonus in with the number of safety observations reported annually. Is this making us safer? The jury is still out on that one but what I can say for sure is I keep my eyes open so I have something new to report more often than not. Others in Oil and Gas should be able to relate to this, but the brewing industry here in Alberta may be just a bit behind in this area.

A lot of what we learn about safety stems from events that could have and should have been prevented.

In my “day job” I help clients protect their pipelines from leaking or exploding, by simply identifying problems BEFORE a tragedy is able to occur so that it can be rectified. But like anyone else, until a serious event occurs, companies can become complacent with safety or simply not know what they do not know. This complacency or lack of information is what leads to tragic events like the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Bruno_pipeline_explosion), where 8 people were killed when a number of defective pipeline welds could not withstand the operating pressures being applied.

You might be asking yourself now, “why is she telling me so much about pipeline events and safety? What does this have to do with beer?” Well, like the Oil and Gas industry, the beer industry has also seen its fair share of tragedy. Not as much in our back yard but our neighbours to the south have stories to tell that we should be learning from or the losses are for nothing.

Keith Miller, with the Matt Brewing Company out of Utica, New York fell victim to one of those “freak” accidents that none of us ever expect to happen. One day while working as a new brewer, a weld failed causing a blast of caustic to be released directly into Keith’s face, blinding him immediately. Crawling along the floor, alone, in hopes of finding the safety shower, Keith wasn’t sure he would ever see again. Lucky for Keith he did find the shower and began flushing his eyes frantically with water, all the while standing there screaming for help. And although there wasn’t anyone working with him in the area at the time, it wasn’t long before he had help and was on his way to the hospital.

In Alberta we are on the cusp seeing 80 breweries in the province and being such a “young” industry, we are bound to “not know what we don’t know” from time to time. Do each of the soon to be 80 breweries have a safety shower in a logical and convenient location for brewers in the event an incident like this happens to them? Have brewers considered the importance of wearing safety glasses while working on particular (or all) phases of the brewing process? My hopes are yes but after what I saw recently, it’s possible we still have more to learn.

On a trip to one of our favourite breweries, we had a pint while sitting at the brewery windows, watching the activity going on inside. The team there was transferring beer out of fermenters into brights and then cleaning the fermenters. Knowing this task is a daily occurrence at this and all breweries, we noticed something that was concerning...

When we took the Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering Course in Middlebury Vermont, our favourite part of that process of course was brewing on the 15 bbl Brew House. On day 1 in the brewery we walked in wearing our American Brewers Guild Issued coveralls, safety glasses and rubber boots (mine were pink of course) thinking we were “ready”. Mark and I have worked in Oil and Gas for nearly 20 years so we are no strangers to PPE (personal protective equipment). In fact when I was a gas field operator at the start of my career, I worked in sour facilities so I was schooled in the ways of safety well beyond what anyone ever actually practiced in the field. So, it came as a huge surprise when Steve Parkes, our instructor, looked at us and said, “fix your boots.”

Not sure what he meant I asked, “what do you mean?” We had our coveralls tucked into our boots of course because we didn’t want to soak up anything that might be on the floor…we thought we were seeing the hazard and correctly accounting for it…but we were wrong.

What I didn’t tell you about Keith Miller’s story above was that while he was standing in the shower, wildly flushing his eyes with water to remove the caustic, all of that water and caustic was falling down his clothes and into his boots because he too had his clothes tucked into them. Of course Keith was blind and was not paying attention to his feet, which at that point were being chemically burned.

So, when we saw the team at this particular brewery, walking around with their clothes tucked into their

boots, it seemed like a good idea to write this BLOG and pass on the info we learned so that our fast growing Alberta craft beer industry doesn’t have to learn from it's own tragedy.

Keith was extremely lucky to have found that shower as quickly as he did because over the many months to follow he regained his sight and his burns healed…but we aren’t always that lucky.

If you want to hear more about Keith’s experience, check out the Master Brewer’s Podcast, “in the blink of an eye” (http://masterbrewerspodcast.com/067-in-the-blink-of-an-eye) it is a very worth while listen. And then take a critical look around your brewery and consider if you are doing all you can do to prevent an accident like Keith’s.

Do you have events like these to share? We need to learn from each other so please share them with everyone you know so that we can all go home safely at the end of the day.

If you don’t have a brewery safety program already, here’s a link to the Brewers Association’s FREE Brewery Safety Training that will benefit you and your crew: https://www.brewersassociation.org/best-practices/safety/free-online-brewery-safety-training/

Want more resources like these? Become a member at the Brewers Association like we did or check out the Master Brewers podcast where you will find more than you may have realized you needed to know.


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