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By courtesy of fellow member @crozdog
You need to not only be aware that there are dangers in operating a distillery but that simple measures can be implemented to minimize the risks. This section details some of the major concerns & how they may be mitigated.
The number one thing to remember is: Do not leave your still unattended! Things can and do happen fast. If you are not there, how can you stop a problem from becoming a situation?
The conversion of carbohydrates like starch & sugar into alcohol is achieved through the process of fermentation. Our yeast friends eat the carbohydrate and produce both alcohol and carbon dioxide CO2 (among other things).
Carbon dioxide is a toxic gas, which is odorless, colorless and heavier than air. Rising levels of carbon dioxide affect the human body and can cause asphyxia, but what level is dangerous and how do you know you are suffering from carbon dioxide poisoning?
Luckily, CO2 levels can be easily controlled by simply ensuring your fermentation area has lots of ventilation, especially in lower levels of the room.
If you use a converted chest freezer as a fermentation chamber, be aware that CO2 will "pool" in the bottom of the cabinet. Propping the lid open and using a fan to inject fresh air into the cabinet would be a wise precaution to periodically perform.
For more information see the attached EIGA Safety Information (PDF).
Many distillers consider it OK to have a few drinks while running their still. We don't need to preach on about how alcohol affects perception, judgement & reaction times, so we won't. Just remember that the consumption of any alcohol during a run will affect your abilities & may contribute to stupid, potentially dangerous mistakes or accidents.
Ethanol vapour is not only highly flammable (see fire risk below) it is also easily inhaled. Repeated inhalation will result in intoxication. So even though you have not had a drink, your blood alcohol level may be over the legal limit if you do drive a car after a run.
Save your drinking until after the run has completed. Consider it a reward for a job well done.
Only use gaskets in good condition. Replace any that are broken, hard or cracked.
Ensure that all Tri-clamp fittings are tightened firmly before starting a run.
Provide adequate ventilation in the distillery – if possible, open doors & windows so you get a cross breeze.
As ethanol is highly flammable, great care must be taken in the distillery.
Vapour leaks need to be quickly identified & stopped even if it means shutting down and starting the run at another time / day.
Any spills must be quickly cleaned up.
Keep an appropriate type of fire extinguisher close at hand. CO2 and dry powder extinguishers are both suitable.
Provide adequate ventilation in the distillery.
Don't smoke in the distillery.
If you use a gas burner as your heat source, build a shroud around the burner – this might improve your efficiency slightly too.
Rinse cleaning sponges & rags well after cleaning up.
We all know they don't mix, so take extreme care. If you are making your equipment eg a boiler always use the services of a qualified electrician to do the build for you or inspect the wiring before use.
Use GFCI's / RCD's.
Where possible do not use extension cords or power boards.
Ensure all equipment is properly earthed.
Don't run power cables through pools of water.
Do no use equipment with damaged plugs, sockets or cables. Examples include burn marks, cut insulation and exposed wiring.
Lots of accidents occur at home that would not occur in the work place simply because workplace safety laws are not followed at home.
To minimise the risks of injury:
Always wear protective clothing like gloves, steel cap boots. Consider using a liquid proof apron – hot dunder / backset can easily scald when it splashes out of a bucket.
Clean up any spills immediately
Do not leave hoses or power cords running over the floor in the work area
Practice Safe lifting
Always bend the knees, keep your back straight & use the power of your legs rather than your arms
A 50L keg 3/4 full with a DASH mounted on top will weigh over 50kg – do not try & pick it up!
At the end of a run the boiler will still hold a lot of heat even after you've drained it – don't try & pick it up!
Be aware of the weight of objects and your own limits. A 25kg sack weighs 25kg regardless of what it contains.
There are a range of strategies that can assist when dealing with performing "heavy work" i.e. lifting or carrying up to 45kg including:
Elimination -- consider eliminating the requirement to lift by design, where possible e.g. use a pump to move liquid rather than bucketing it around
Substitution -- consider breaking down the load into lighter components or replace lifting a load with pushing a load (for example, using a trolley)
Minimisation -- try to decrease the frequency of lifting where possible
Engineering -- use a trolley or other manual handling equipment
Assistance -- get help for lifting and lowering
Personal Protective Equipment -- e.g. gloves, footwear & back braces
(Source: Australian Safety and Compensation Council 2007, WorkCover NSW 2007)
At a minimum, turn power off at the wall before unplugging or moving any electrical items.
All alcohol needs to be carefully stored, high ABV% even more so.
Glass or stainless steel containers are the perfect storage vessels. HDPE drums are also alcohol safe, but many do not like the idea of keeping high proof alcohol in plastic.
Keep any product in a secure location out of the sun and out of reach of children – they are silly enough as they are ;)
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