“Streets flowing with wine” sounds like heaven, but not if that wine is gushing from a tank that failed in your winery.
The unlikely-sounding scenario actually happened in September 2018 in Conegliano, Italy, when a fermentation tank spewed 8,000 gallons of prosecco. Other winery accidents have resulted in injuries and even deaths.
When it comes to winery safety, following recommended precautions goes a long way, but engineering to prevent accidents goes even further.
Engineering Safety into Design
“Most winery accidents are related to tank failure and confined spaces,” says McClintock. “Our solution is to prevent accidents by engineering away the things that cause them.”
Tanks fail when the steel used for the sides is too thin, when the welds aren’t thick enough or they’re performed poorly, the shape of the top and bottom isn’t suited to the type of wine being produced, or the tank isn’t vented properly.
“You can buy cheaper tanks overseas, and you may even fool yourself into thinking it’s okay because they’re from regions renowned for superior wine production,” says Jared McClintock, ICC NW Sales Support. “But investing in higher quality is like an insurance policy; except this is one you can touch and you can resell.”
A lot of wineries in Napa were glad they bought that “insurance” when a 6.0 earthquake hit in 2014. None of ICC NW’s clients suffered a tank failure. In fact, it was ICC NW they turned to for replacements when tanks from other manufacturers tipped over or crumpled under the impact.
“The way we approach vessels is highly conservative,” says McClintock. “ASME wrote the book on pressure vessel requirements, and we even follow those for non-pressure vessels because they’re such sound requirements.”
McClintock noted that sparkling wines like prosecco require tanks that can withstand extremely high pressure—60 to 90 psi. For comparison, the typical brewery tank would be required to withstand only 15 psi. “Pressure hasn’t been a common concern among wineries, but now that wines like prosecco are becoming more popular here, some wineries are looking at adding it to their product mix. Without the right tanks, though, that could be a disaster.”
Even a large tank is a deadly confined space due to the C02 and other gases that are present during fermenting or cleaning.
Most accidents involving confined space occur when the wine or the grape must is sampled or removed from the tank and during emptying and cleaning. In 1999, a winery worker in the Sonoma Valley died while cleaning a tank. In 2002, the owner and a winemaker at a winery in Vancouver, B.C. died when the owner fell in while bending over the top; the winemaker fell in trying to pull him out. In 2011, another worker died in a Napa winery after looking into a tank to see if all the wine had been transferred.
ICC NW’s solution to situations like these is to design them away – creating transfer, emptying, and cleaning systems that keep humans outside of the tanks and away from the danger.
“We design so that no one has to go into a tank and those types of accidents can’t occur,” says McClintock. “We use shear-sensitive pumps and piping to remove product, our brewery-inspired self-emptying tank, and clean-in-place technology that eliminates the need for a worker to enter a tank.”
In fact, says McClintock, OSHA has even referred to ICC NW as the authority on confined space, “because we manufacture so many tanks and we take it so seriously that we go above and beyond the highest safety standards.”