The Government watchdog for workplace safety in NSW has completed a 12-month fact-finding program into cellar safety and compliance in pubs.
The entity formerly known as Workcover – now Safe Work NSW (SWNSW) – spoke to PubTIC about its look into pub cellars and cool rooms, as part of its mission to educate rather than exert authority.
Over the course of a year several specialist inspectors from SWNSW conducted preliminary inspections at more than 200 pubs.
The regulator found that the majority of venues had some compliance issues with Australian Standards (AS 5034*). Non-compliance was managed in two ways, depending on severity:
- Issue of a Notice for each significant breach
- Documented discussion on the spot, followed by a report and list of any ‘agreed actions’
SWNSW presented a total of 160 Notices – sometimes more than one to a single venue.
The key findings, and primary drivers for the inspection program, were around issues with chemical handling and gas usage. SWNSW State Inspector Chris Turner said the problems are more about ignorance than questionable intent.
“Most problems came down to a lack of understanding and training, and not realising the consequences of what they are doing – in regards to chemicals, and CO₂ in confined spaces,” said Turner.
Typical examples included:
- No emergency procedures, or not on display
- CO₂ monitors in cool rooms, but not in the area where cylinders are stored
- CO₂ monitors switched off** – likely due to false alarms, often caused by maintenance or calibration failings
- Chemicals stored poorly, or overhead, or above perishables such as food
- Lack of or incorrect PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) – such as the correct non-vented goggles for beer line chemical handling
- Mixing beer line chemicals in unsuitable containers, or decanting with risk of spillage
There were also some issues with workplace safety outside the scope of SWNSW’s look into cellars, such as manual handling of kegs and gas cylinders, and cellar access.
“A large number were compliant with many, but not all issues,” said Turner.
“Ideally we would expect 100 per cent compliance to AS5034, as it covers all the important things, but unfortunately, few were.
“There is definitely scope in the industry to improve safety in gas, and the use of chemicals.”
Of greater concern, says Turner, was the frequency of venues that had been issued certification by a specialist, with problems in another area; compliance with AS 5034 means all aspects, not merely selected areas of expertise.
“A number of venues had been visited by ‘consultants’ – and often given a statement of compliance – but they may miss things that aren’t in their speciality area. Even at the superficial level of our inspections, we were still finding faults.
“The specialist doing a job for the venue doesn’t have to be an expert in everything, but they should at least have an understanding of the standard and what compliance looks like.”
SWNSW is working with industry to determine upcoming efforts in this sector, in better education for suppliers, installers and operators.
“We’re talking to key industry entities, such as Bracton, and some of the major beer distributors, as we’re leaning more toward dealing with suppliers and supply chain rather than just venues.
“We have been pleased with the level of support from hotel groups and Accords, and Hotel Employers Mutual, which have brought us along to meetings, and helped spread the message.
“If we can get to people through better education, that is far better than turning up taking compliance action.”
For cellar compliance matters, Safe Work NSW recommends operators first contact their suppliers or Associations.
Bracton has developed a comprehensive knowledge base, including specifics on AS5034 for pub operators.
Similarly, Hotel Employers Mutual has created an online Safety Management System, which is free for members, with incentives for compliance.
Safe Work NSW’s help line can answer a lot of basic enquiries. Call 13 10 50 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*AS5034–2005 Installation and use of inert gases for beverage dispensing
**CO₂ monitors should be hard-wired into mains power, and not be able to be switched off.