A winery may be filled with the smells of oak and fruit, but winery workers are all business when it comes to wine production. As part of the wine-making process, winery workers are often called upon to enter tanks, vats, and presses for cleaning, inspection, and maintenance. No matter the reason for the entry, these winery confined spaces can be hazardous.
Winery tanks, vats, and presses are confined spaces because they are fully or partially enclosed, are not intended as a primary workplace, and have a restricted means of entry and exit. Due to fermentation, the grapes, juices, pomace, and wines in the tanks, vats, and presses can produce or contain sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, ethanol, and/or water vapor. These gases and vapors can reach concentrated levels, displace oxygen, and create a hazardous atmosphere for workers.
Workers risk injury or death if they are overcome by a high concentration of air contaminants or a lack of oxygen when they enter winery confined spaces. Presses, tanks, and vats should be posted with warning signs that they are confined spaces. Written permit confined space programs are required to control confined space entries. Every worker, supervisor, and manager working in or around winery confined spaces must be trained on confined space hazards, entry methods, and rescue operations.
Where possible, workers should avoid entering winery confined spaces. Using long-handled tools for shoveling or cleaning, installing automatic cleaning systems, or hiring trained outside contractors for tank repairs can help avoid entries. Note that the winery is responsible for providing or arranging rescue support to contractors that enter confined spaces.
When workers enter or even place a body part such as a hand, arm, or leg into a confined space, formalized entry and rescue procedures are required. The tank, vat, or press should be completely emptied and ventilated using air handlers before entry. Oxygen levels should be tested using a monitor inserted into the tank on a long-handled tool. Once a confined space has been monitored as safe, a trained team, including, at minimum, the entry worker, an observer, a rescuer, and the permit person (usually a manager or supervisor) should be gathered.
The permit person must document the entry. The entry worker should be equipped with a lifeline, alarmed oxygen and carbon dioxide meters, and appropriate respiratory protection such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The rescuer should be equipped with a lifeline and SCBA. The rescuer should maintain control of the entry worker’s lifeline and, with the help of the observer, monitor the work progress during the entry.
If a rescue is needed, the rescuer should first attempt to extract the entry worker using the lifeline. If that is unsuccessful, the rescuer should don the SCBA, ensure that his/her own lifeline is manned by the observer (now the stand-by rescuer), and enter the area to extract the worker. Because 60 percent of all confined space fatalities occur among attempted rescuers, workers should never attempt rescues without the proper equipment and training.
With proper training and safe work practices around winery confined spaces, winery workers can concentrate on the grape without a making a major mistake.