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Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry

04 January 2010

The Drinks industry encompasses the brewing of beers/lagers, distillation of potable spirits and the manufacture of soft drinks and other beverages, such as tea and coffee. At first sight, with the exception of distilling, these processes would appear to be relatively low risk. However, all the above manufacturing operations can give rise to fire and explosion hazards.

Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry
Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry

The production of beers/lagers in the brewing industry entails the fermentation of grain, typically malted barley. Before fermentation the grain must first be cleaned and milled to an appropriate particle size. These processes involved the transportation, storage and handling of grain.

Grain dust is combustible and under appropriate conditions can give rise to a dust explosion hazard. In 1997 a dust explosion in a grain storage facility at Blaye, France resulted in the death of 11 personnel and severe structural damage to the installation.

A number of dust explosions have occurred in the Brewing Industry and the biggest single cause of these is dry milling of grain, typically by roll mills. This operation both generates flammable dust clouds within the milling equipment and represents a significant ignition risk. This risk is eliminated in a wet milling process.

Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry
Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry

Distillation of potable spirit also involves the fermentation of grain and therefore storage, transfer and milling of grain with the associated hazards as in the brewing industry. However, potable spirit itself is a flammable liquid, which may contain ethyl alcohol in the range 60%-96% by volume before reduction to bottling strength. Consequently it has the potential to give rise to serious fire and explosion hazards.

Typical process operations include distillation, condensation, filtration, bulk storage and tanker / cask filling and emptying. There have been a number of severe fires in cask storage warehouses. One of the largest was the Heaven Hill warehouse fire in Kentucky, USA, which in 1996 resulted in the destruction of several warehouses, plant and millions of litres of Bourbon Whisky.

Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry
Fire and explosion hazards in the drinks industry

The manufacture of soft drinks, typically, involves bulk handling of sugar, which is a combustible material and can pose a dust explosion risk. In addition, many of the flavourings used in soft drinks are flammable as they are alcohol based (either ethyl or iso-propyl alcohol). Furthermore, these are typically supplied in combustible plastic containers which, in the event of a fire, will melt and burn leading to spillage of the flammable flavouring and a potential hazard from running pool fires.

Many instant beverages are combustible powders and can give rise to dust explosion hazards. The manufacture of soluble coffee, for example, entails numerous process operations where fire and explosion hazards can arise, from green bean handling, through roasting and grinding up to spray drying, agglomeration and packing. Other instant beverages can involve the milling, mixing, storage and transport of combustible powders such as sugar, starch and other cereal based ingredients.

Burgoyne Consultants have direct experience of process operations in the drinks Industry and the hazards that can arise. They can offer process risk assessments, fire and explosion protection specification, hazard identification and safety management consultancy and audits.


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