Company Faces OSHA Fine In Fatal Redhook Keg Explosion

Selbe B. / Flickr Creative Commons

OSHA found safety violations at Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth contributed to a fatal keg explosion last spring

Redhook Brewery’s parent company, Craft Brew Alliance, faces $63,500 in fines for safety violations tied to the death of a worker last spring.

In April, 26-year old Ben Harris was killed when a plastic keg he was pressure-cleaning at the Portsmouth brewery exploded.  After a six-month investigation, OSHA issued three citations to CBA, covering a series of safety violations ranging from minor to serious.

The Portsmouth Patch runs down the basic list of violations.  Robert Cook writes:

“According to [Department of Labor spokesman Edmund] Fitzgerald, the biggest violations that Redhook committed that led to Harris’ death were:

  • The explosion resulted from excess pressure introduced into the keg from the keg cleanout line.
  • The cleanout line lacked an air regulator that would have limited its air pressure to below 60 pounds per square inch or PSI, the maximum air pressure limit recommended by keg manufacturers.
  • Other employees who used the cleanout line were exposed to the same hazard while cleaning out steel kegs.”

One of the more mysterious aspects of this accident was the presence of a plastic keg at the brewery in the first place.

CBA maintains the keg wasn’t owned by the company.  Jim Haddadin of Foster’s Daily Democrat has written a great investigative story looking into this odd situation.  CBA issued a statement to the newspaper saying that Redhook only uses a specific brand of steel kegs.  But Haddadin reports the machine exceeded the “recommended pressure” for these metal kegs as well.

OSHA didn’t mention the keg manufacturer’s name in its citation of CBA.  But Haddadin found that microbreweries are skittish about using plastic kegs.  And one brand keeps coming up in “numerous reports” to the Brewers Association trade group:

“All of those reports involve products manufactured by a California company called Plastic Kegs America, Brewers Association director Paul Gatza said last week.

Since the accident at Redhook, Foster’s has learned of at least four breweries around the country where plastic kegs have exploded while being cleaned in a pressurized keg washer.  In each instance, the breweries were using products manufactured by Plastic Kegs America.

In each instance, the kegs separated at the center seam, where two pieces of plastic that form the keg come together.

CBA has indicated that the April 24 explosion that killed Harris split the keg around the middle seam where the two halves were joined.”

Foster’s reports the full OSHA report on the fatal Redhook accident won’t become public information until CBA has had time to go over it.  StateImpact has combed OSHA records to put the Redhook explosion into the context of other brewery accidents over the years.  You can catch that coverage here.


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