Tragic Accident Claims Brewery Worker

In a rare and tragic brewery accident, the industry has lost one of its own.
A brewery worker died from injuries received during an explosion of a beer keg Tuesday at Redhook Ale Brewery in Portsmouth, N.H.

The employee was identified as Newington resident Ben Harris.

Assistant Fire Chief Steve Achilles said the brewery employee had been pressurizing a keg by filling it with air as part of a cleaning process to remove residual beer.

“The keg failed and exploded, and he was injured by parts of the keg,” Achilles said.

Andy Thomas, vice president of Redhook’s commercial operations, said the Redhook organization is “saddened by the tragic event that occurred at the Portsmouth brewery this morning, resulting in the death of one of our employees.”

“Our deepest sympathies go out to his family,” Thomas said. “We are doing everything in our power to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragic accident and have closed down all non-essential operations at the Portsmouth brewery, including the pub, while the investigation continues.”

Comments

  1. Fullcourt says

    There has been a failed pressure relief on a tank at Otter Creek in Vermont, a burst tank that shot through a wall at Franconia Brewing in Texas, and now this.
    Seems like the Brewers Association should compile these events for all the industry to understand.

  2. banjolawyer says

    Can anyone shed any light on what might have happened in this case, and what might be done to prevent it, or at least guard against it?

  3. CapeCodBeer says

    The story gets sadder…..Sounds like the man killed had been recently married and expecting a child.

    From the obituary posted online…In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that memorial contribution be made to the: The Alysha Miller Harris Baby Fund c/o TD Bank, 20 International Drive, Portsmouth, NH 03801, (603) 430-3812, to benefit his unborn child.

  4. Jephro says

    I am pretty curious as well. Seems any operating pressure on a co2 line wouldn’t be high enough to burst a keg , at least in the pub settings I’ve worked in. And assuming the keg is in decent shape.

    It seems most quality sankey heads have PRV’s that are set around 40-50 psi .. maybe not so with all filler and cleaning heads. I sometimes crank a reg up to increase flowrate but even in such cases rarely have exceeded 35-40 psi.

    Sincere sympathy to the friends, co-workers, and esp the family of Ben.

  5. S.Brewer says

    I was recently married and almost died from an exploding bung in 2004. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to come to before I’d lost too much blood and been able to reach my coworkers, I would have left a widow and a new 6-year old stepson. I know that we don’t know all of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, but I feel I should share my emotions since it hits so close to home with me. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your loved one.

  6. dfalken says

    S.Brewer wrote: I was recently married and almost died from an exploding bung in 2004. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to come to before I’d lost too much blood and been able to reach my coworkers, I would have left a widow and a new 6-year old stepson. I know that we don’t know all of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, but I feel I should share my emotions since it hits so close to home with me. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your loved one.

    how did it happen? We can all learn from these experiences. Please share.

  7. Wayne1 says

    From a Statement by Redhook:

    There is an assessment underway to reveal exactly what happened Tuesday morning. Although the investigation is still in process, there are several facts that we can confirm:

    • The accident was caused by an exploding plastic keg ;
    • The keg was not owned or used by Redhook Brewery or any other CBA brewery;
    • It is normal protocol for the brewery to receive kegs that aren’t ours from time to time;
    • Ben was handling the keg at the time it exploded.

  8. monkeybrewer says

    I wonder how many exploded plastic kegs it will take before all manufacturers of such a ridiculous idea are out of business…hopefully none more.
    Angering and so tragic that such a ridiculous product is putting us in mortal danger…just to save a few bucks.
    Sadly

  9. ChesterBrew says

    monkeybrewer wrote: I wonder how many exploded plastic kegs it will take before all manufacturers of such a ridiculous idea are out of business…hopefully none more.
    Angering and so tragic that such a ridiculous product is putting us in mortal danger…just to save a few bucks.

    That’s a pretty harsh accusation… do you have any links/data (aside from this incident) to back up the assertion that plastic kegs are more dangerous than stainless? All materials have pros/cons but I haven’t seen a trend of failure that your comment implies.

  10. monkeybrewer says

    Just referencing the posts on this forum with pics to boot. I’ve never seen any posts and pics of blown up steel kegs…
    harsh is a product that is obviously inferior to steel being sold as equal…
    this should piss us all off
    Cheers

  11. ChesterBrew says

    monkeybrewer wrote: Just referencing the posts on this forum with pics to boot.

    I’d love to know some links to these threads.

    Seriously… I’m not trying to pick a fight or otherwise discount what you’re saying… I just haven’t seen evidence that plastic kegs are an inferior product above and beyond the normal material/lifespan issues that one could reasonably infer from the cost difference. If that’s the case, I think it’s helpful to be documented.

    It’s one thing to say a Ford Fiesta is inferior to a Ford Mustang… it’s another thing to call it a Ford Pinto. 😉

  12. monkeybrewer says

    first thing I said when I heard of plastic kegs was “they are going to kill somebody some day, mark my words”. Unfortunately that day has come and that’s enough for me to continue to stay away and speak of what should be intuitive…no fight, just anger and sadness about an accident that should not be possible…
    that’s all I’ve got to say about that…
    Cheers

  13. palmer89 says

    Just checked a plastic keg supplier’s specs on a 1/2 BBL. Max working pressure 60psi. That’s less than half of a stainless keg. Do you know how fast you can get on a loading dock. Pressurizing in addition to remove the ullage. Scary stuff. There’s just no room for error. Hopefully, we can learn some important safety lessons. Know your pressures before you pressurize. Our hearts go out to Redhook and Ben’s family.

    Paul Davis
    Prodigal Brewing Company

  14. sbradt says

    Fullcourt wrote: There has been a failed pressure relief on a tank at Otter Creek in Vermont, a burst tank that shot through a wall at Franconia Brewing in Texas, and now this.
    Seems like the Brewers Association should compile these events for all the industry to understand.

    I’ve served on the seminar selection committee for the Brewers Association for many years. Every year the question comes up “do we need a safety seminar this year at CBC”. Every year the answer is a resounding Yes – we always need to make room for a talk on safe brewing practices. When you consider the size and longevity of a brewery like Red Hook, or any of it’s CBA partners, and realize that they most likely have devoted significant resources to safety in their breweries, it’s an eye opener when something like this still happens. I strongly encourage any brewery, big or small, with personnel attending this year’s CBC to plan on having someone attend this years Brewing Safety Roundtable at 3:30 on Thursday.

  15. barleywhiner says

    palmer89 wrote: Just checked a plastic keg supplier’s specs on a 1/2 BBL. Max working pressure 60psi. That’s less than half of a stainless keg. Do you know how fast you can get on a loading dock. Pressurizing in addition to remove the ullage. Scary stuff. There’s just no room for error. Hopefully, we can learn some important safety lessons. Know your pressures before you pressurize. Our hearts go out to Redhook and Ben’s family.

    Paul Davis
    Prodigal Brewing Company

    Your thinking of corny kegs. Stainless steel Sankeys are pressure rated to 60 psi as well.

  16. Rosie says

    Tragic news this week indeed. The minute I heard the news, I thought of this thread

    Our kegs (Schaefer, Germany) burst at 3 bar out the bottom of the keg…I hope to never experience that, but equipment fails and people make stupid mistakes.

    Personally I wouldn’t touch these plastic kegs with a barge pole.

    Be safe kids.

    Jeff

  17. I Like Pints says

    Thought I’d re-post this from the BA Forum, as it concern’s Sankey keg pressures and why they decided not to put PRV’s into `em. Just in case nobody saw it the first go`round.

    From: Jeff Gunn [mailto:IDD2JEFF@aol.com]
    Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2012 6:55 PM
    Subject: Keg safety in the face of tragedy

    To all Forum Members – I like all of you am shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Redhook Brewery in New Hampshire this last Tuesday. My staff and I extend our sincere condolences to Ben Harris’s wife, family and team mate’s at Redhook Brewery.

    Having personally been a part of the Sankey keg system development for just on 50 years, I have been asked these last couple of days by a number of the craft brewing community as to how this could have happened; Some explanation comes out of the statement issued by Redhook Brewery today. It turns out the keg is not a “true” Sankey keg but one of the many variables that are now proliferating throughout the industry.

    The American stainless steel Sankey keg under a 1970’s agreement with a major USA brewing industry leader and the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), allowed the Sankey keg to be used without a pressure relief valve because it was demonstrated that the Sankey kegs of the period had a burst pressure well in excess of 600 PSI. The ASME committee agreed to a Factor of Safety (FOS) of 10:1 or greater. The kegs had the following engraved statement on them so they would comply with the regulations pertaining to this “new style” of pressure vessel. The statement that was to be engraved on the top dome of all Sankey style kegs meeting these criteria is:

    “WARNING – This container will rupture if pressurized above 60 PSI”

    This statement in and of itself is the reputable keg manufacturers self regulation that the Sankey kegs engraved as such meet or exceed this FOS ratio. I can only advise that if the kegs/containers do not meet these criteria, then you should ensure that they have some demonstrable safety device that will render them harmless above the manufacturers stated operating pressure limit. I would also advise that whatever reputable manufactured or home made systems you use to wash, sterilize/sanitize and fill kegs, to be aware that the kegs should not be exerted to process pressures exceeding those keg manufacturers stated limits.

    Some final words on the subject of keg pressure safety. In recent years some equipment and chemical suppliers are advocating elevated caustic (sodium hydroxide) temperatures above the normal 120 to 150 degrees F (50 to 65 degrees C), to 180 degrees F (85 degrees C). Apart from being unnecessary and wasteful, there is a danger lurking in the future if this practice continues that the 1 and 2% of sodium hypochlorite (chlorine salts) present in some caustics, will cause severe stress corrosion fatigue cracks of the stainless steel keg and eventually there will be a high probability of stainless steel keg ruptures.

    Respectfully,

    Jeff Gunn
    President & CEO
    IDD Process & Packaging, Inc.

  18. burlybeer says

    As it happens, my sister lives in Portsmouth NH and the day this happened she called me extremely agitated and worried about my own safety as she “had no idea such a thing could happen” I am sure this is a sentiment shared by both our loved ones and the average citizen.

    It will only take a few more stories like this to hit the national headlines to bring the heavy hand of government regulation down upon our heads. I do not know the worker involved and am not making assumptions about his skills, nor do I mean any disrespect to the people at Redhook but the craft beer industry as a whole routinely employs workers with little or no training working in an industrial environment. Most every brewer I know has some type of “near-miss” story to tell and scars/burns/broken bones/etc to prove it.

    I cringe every time I hear of some homebrewer who is about to open his own brewery with zero or little practical experience working in one.

    And yes, plastic kegs scare the shit out of me too.

  19. obvance says

    I had a spear blow out of a plastic keg once as I uncoupled it. Good thing I was standing to the side. Never touched them again and I NEVER stand over any keg when coupling or uncoupling it.

  20. mr.jay says

    This past Labor Day weekend (it was Friday, if I recall), I was about to CIP my FV. I began pumping 180 F water through the pump inlet into the tank. Ferrule popped loose, got sprayed on the shoulder and chest with the water. Still have the scars to remind me. By God’s Grace my face and eyes were spared (although it would be a “cooler” story than the acne scars I have from High School). I still replay it in my head, I still get shivers when I turn the HLT pump on, and I often wonder if I just wasn’t alert that morning. That was after 7 years of “experience.” I went into an odd state of shock. I just continued to work as if nothing happened (I don’t remember this, it’s what was told to me after the fact), walked into the office and began rubbing burn cream on my chest. The accountant was there (fortunately) and saw no color in my face, and how bad my chest looked. They took me to the hospital, and I declined to be admitted. They wouldn’t let me go until my heart rate returned to normal. They prescribed some antibiotics that turned my insides out, and I couldn’t shower for a week (silver cream is a breakthrough medication, btw). I went back to work to shut the brewery down and get my stuff. There was grain on the floor, valves turned every which way, and the wort pump was running (had to replace the seal kit after that, as you can imagine). Lesson learned: Don’t work alone….Don’t work exhausted…..Anticipate safety, but always be prepared for the worst.

    Jay

    “Reach for a beer, glad that I’m here, when I realize that your not around.”

  21. Lagergnome says

    I was shocked to hear the terrible news of a life lost, my heart goes out to the family of Ben Harris. I’m not in the business of selling plastic or stainless kegs for a living, so I will withhold emotional speculation in a public forum.

    Take measures to prevent this from happening again. I hope that everyone who uses Plastic kegs in the future will be vigilant and inspect your pressure regulator settings on your keg washers and tune them down to safety margins. There should be Two regulators for each application, compressed air for purge beer/cleaner and C02 for purge sanitizer. Set the high pressure regulator receiving air from the compressor at max 63psi, the second regulator drop pressure to 60max. The same for CO2…your high pressure regulators should be redundant and set at 60max…your secondary or final CO2 regulator set at your regular pressure to purge keg post sani. Your kegs might wash a little slower, but you would be safer. My guess is most semi-automatic keg washers are set around 80psi for compressed air purge, don’t let this happen to you or your employees. There is a possibility that reducing the pressures of air & gas will make your touch screen/PLC keg washer not work properly. You may have to contact the manufacturer and take directions on how to make certain cycles extend the time for purge by a few seconds. That’s the rub between ‘sensing’ technology that uses an eye to sense when the sanitizer/air is purged from the keg vs. some of the new cheaper imported PLC Keg washers that were timed/calibrated to operate at certain pressures.

    Be safe and redundant…if you don’t have double regulators on air and CO2…spend the $200 bucks and add them on yourself. *Lastly, for the sake of stating the obvious…the ‘One way’ Disposable kegs are never to be washed…these look like the giant 2Liter bottles in a plastic base holder and snap on lid. You wouldn’t think anyone would try to wash one of those, but almost everyone that sees one for the first time asks that question. When they are empty…recycle!

  22. dlgore says

    Terrible story and my thoughts are with his family and I hope something comes out of this sad news.
    Just wanted to share that stainless steel kegs are designed to fail in a very specific manner that does not result in any shrapnel or flying debris. They will split on a specific weld.
    While I am no expert on this supject, it would seem to me that plastic will degrade over time in sunlight, becomes softer and weaker at higher temperatures and more brittle at colder temperatures, and will not split but shatter.
    I had not actually heard about full plastic kegs until reading about this story but they sure as heck do not sound like a good idea.
    Stay safe everyone!

  23. Fullcourt says

    mr.jay wrote: This past Labor Day weekend (it was Friday, if I recall), I was about to CIP my FV. I began pumping 180 F water through the pump inlet into the tank. Ferrule popped loose, got sprayed on the shoulder and chest with the water. Still have the scars to remind me. By God’s Grace my face and eyes were spared (although it would be a “cooler” story than the acne scars I have from High School). I still replay it in my head, I still get shivers when I turn the HLT pump on, and I often wonder if I just wasn’t alert that morning. That was after 7 years of “experience.” I went into an odd state of shock. I just continued to work as if nothing happened (I don’t remember this, it’s what was told to me after the fact), walked into the office and began rubbing burn cream on my chest. The accountant was there (fortunately) and saw no color in my face, and how bad my chest looked. They took me to the hospital, and I declined to be admitted. They wouldn’t let me go until my heart rate returned to normal. They prescribed some antibiotics that turned my insides out, and I couldn’t shower for a week (silver cream is a breakthrough medication, btw). I went back to work to shut the brewery down and get my stuff. There was grain on the floor, valves turned every which way, and the wort pump was running (had to replace the seal kit after that, as you can imagine). Lesson learned: Don’t work alone….Don’t work exhausted…..Anticipate safety, but always be prepared for the worst.

    Jay

    Jay, glad you were not more seriously hurt.
    Your post belongs in this thread:
    http://www.probrewer.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=14669
    There are similar stories of near misses there, and a few humorous incidents.
    thanks for sharing.

  24. gitchegumee says

    “I cringe every time I hear of some homebrewer who is about to open his own brewery with zero or little practical experience working in one.”

    Burly, I couldn’t agree more. And not only for safety implications, but also health. You need a license to cut hair, but not to make a mass-consumed beverage. Need a license to drive a car, but not to intoxicate your neighbors. If we continue to have tragedies like this, big brother will be forced to act. Wish we had a step in licensing to require a health and safety audit before these beverages are unleashed on the public. Be sharp and work safe. We all have practices that could be done better, greener, less wasteful, and safer.

  25. fastricky says

    Truly a sad story.

    The only other possibility for the rupture I can think of is maybe the keg was used for yeast and it sat around for awhile with massive pressure buildup?

  26. Lagergnome says

    I’m hearing a more complete follow up on the circumstances surrounding the keg separation/explosion. The keg was not on a keg washer when it exploded. There was a separate station set up just for the purpose of purging out partially filled kegs using compressed air. The air pressure was set somewhere around 150PSI to purge out the old beer quickly.

    Another brewery that I am friends with installed a blast cage on top of their keg washer with a locking door. Also, whoever is operating the keg washer has to wear a riot helmet with face shield and a kevlar vest. That is a noteworthy safety regiment!

  27. revnatscider says

    Donning a riot helmet and kevlar vest wouldn’t make me happy. If something is so likely to violently invade your personal space, why not fix the problem at it’s source (i.e. a box around the potential problem)? Kevlar vest does nothing for your femoral artery.

  28. legidley says

    While working alone at my first brewery, I had a plastic keg explode on the keg washer. A solenoid allowing the keg to drain failed. The keg roughly split in half. Most of the top half flew vertical and hit the ceiling. Sounded like a bomb going off. Luckily I was not in the room when it happened. I promptly repaired the washer. Although the blast was loud, at the time, really couldn’t see it throwing enough force to kill someone (since I didn’t actually watch it happen).

    My condolences to his family and Redhook Brewery.

    Does anyone else have any experiences with these plastic kegs exploding?

  29. ScottE says

    Once, when working on a Keg-Technic cleaning/filling line a keg exploded exploded on the fill side. In order to press the double-button start, one must put their chest/face directly in front of the filling keg. Luckily I had just walked away to check on a keg that I was emptying manually. The keg failed and sent a piece of shrapnel over my head, 20 ft away. If I had been in my normal spot, waiting for the keg to finish it’s cycle, I would have caught that piece of jagged plastic in my face/neck. It sounded like a concussion grenade and rattled me pretty good. This was easily the scariest moment in my brewing career.

    The brewery which I was working for at the time changed procedures and banned plastic kegs from the filling line and reserved them for soda only. I personally think the plastic kegs are garbage. They fail at the seems after a couple of years. Stainless costs more up front, but the higher quality leads to less fails and loss of money in the long run.

    Scott Emond
    Lovely Rita’s Brewing Company

  30. StrongArm says

    Just horrible!

    Focus on the tragedy and I am sure the brewer and the manufacturer will evaluate the quality, safety and viability of the equipment.

    Not a time to rip on anyone just a time to reflect on the industry we love and support of the people that make it possible.

    There will be plenty of time to get the facts and make the needed adjustments however a life was lost and no amount of attacking equipment and manufactures will change that.

    Be safe and have integrity out there!

  31. Matt Dog says

    We decommissioned all our plastic kegs after this story. We almost considered selling them but quickly dismissed the idea. I have personally seen an exploded plastic keg at another brewery in town(they quit using them as well). I wont use them and I wont put one on tap. Im all for boycotting them as I do not believe they are safe. I feel terrible for the family and friends of the victim of this tragic accident.

  32. airways says

    I don’t get why all the finger pointing at the kegs when, from what I’ve read, RH was using a purging procedure where they exceed the recommended pressure of *any* keg.

    The press release from CBA was typical lawyer-written CYA BS to attempt to insulate themselves from inevitable lawsuits.

    I’ve used plastic kegs for the last three years. No issues at all. Cleaning and purging them on a Premiere keg washer and hand cleaning the occasional one. I know a dozen other breweries in the Seattle area who use them as well and love them.

    If I banned everything from my brewery that’s potentially dangerous, I’d be staring at empty tanks.

    Matt Dog wrote: We decommissioned all our plastic kegs after this story. We almost considered selling them but quickly dismissed the idea. I have personally seen an exploded plastic keg at another brewery in town(they quit using them as well). I wont use them and I wont put one on tap. Im all for boycotting them as I do not believe they are safe. I feel terrible for the family and friends of the victim of this tragic accident.

  33. Matt Dog says

    I know a dozen other breweries in the Seattle area who use them as well and love them.

    Love them? You probably mean you love the price. There may be good quality plastic kegs out there. But the best plastic keg will never come close to a well made stainless keg in safety or durability. Another brewery I know has had multiple kegs explode during cleaning and some that were in warm storage that still had beer in them. never would have happened with stainless. Im not telling you not to use them, just saying I wont.

    If I banned everything from my brewery that’s potentially dangerous, I’d be staring at empty tanks.

    We all know there are plenty of dangerous things in the brewery which is why I choose to not to add unnecessary ones.

    For some reason it wont let me post a pic of an exploded plastic keg I have but Ill be happy to email it to you.