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Carbon Dioxide at Draught: Safe Handling and Staff Training

May 29, 2024

Tragically, in June of 2018 a draught installer was found dead inside a walk-in beer cooler at a baseball stadium. The autopsy results indicated that he died of “asphyxia due to carbon dioxide exposure.” Carbon dioxide (CO2) leaked in the cooler at high concentrations, displacing available oxygen. It was found that the cooler door had a handle that malfunctioned, making it difficult for a person to exit the cooler.

Ensuring a safe workspace for all that work in or around a draught system involves multiple considerations; one of the most life threatening can be exposure to CO2. When training bar staff about safety precautions, it’s important to discuss how to prevent injuries and fatalities due to carbon dioxide exposure.

In most retail draught systems, delivering beer from a keg to the faucet requires gas. Gas fills up the headspace of a keg and pushes beer up from the bottom through a valve to flow through the draught system all the way to a customer’s glass. The preferred gas to use is CO2 because it occurs naturally in beer. Not only does it propel the beer through the draught system, it also helps maintain the already present carbonation levels in the beer, keeping it fresh and fizzy.

In the past, bars used an air compressor to push beer from keg to faucet, until it became commonly known to quickly degrade the beer’s quality and cause the beer to go flat and rapidly stale. Thankfully, it’s rare to find a retailer nowadays that would ever consider using air on their beer system. Bars now use CO2 or a blend of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Nitrogen makes a great sidekick for long draw draught systems, because while CO2 is readily absorbed in beer, nitrogen is much less soluble, so it just pushes the beer without increasing the beer’s carbonation. For more information on carbonation management, see Facts About Draught Beer Carbonation.

Carbon dioxide can be delivered in 5, 10, or 20-pound cylinders. Another option is a bulk CO2 tank where the tank remains at the retail premises and is refilled as needed. This large format option used to be exclusively used at extremely high-volume beverage retailers, such as stadiums and arenas. However, the use of bulk CO2 tanks has become popular at average sized bars and restaurants for both their soda and beer systems and can be a cost cutting option for many.

It’s important to consider that the volume of CO2 storage can change the potential for harm. If there’s a CO2 leak with a small cylinder, once that gas runs out, it’s less common to have a large enough leak to produce harm. Large bulk tanks contain greater amounts of CO2 which can pose a deadly threat if there’s a leak in the cooler. Carbon dioxide is both colorless and odorless, so it can be very difficult to know if there is a leak until it’s too late.

Below are several strategies and considerations for safely handling carbon dioxide:

As always, communicating safety hazards to everyone that works in or around a bar space is inexpensive and easy, but also a crucial step in preventing death and injury. Here are some topics to get you started:

Staying on top of the hazards that can affect bar staff as well as vendors and contracted workers is extremely important in preventing accidental injuries adjacent to a draught system. Carbon dioxide is essential to dispensing quality beer but can be deadly if not taking the proper precautions. Investing in the well-being and safety of people is an expense that should never be spared.

The Draught Beer Quality Subcommittee's mission is to improve the quality of draught beer dispensed to customers. They seek to preserve the great flavor and aroma of beer created by the brewer, and to deliver it to the consumer at retail. Great beer must be handled conscientiously to arrive in the glass in perfect condition.

Early Detection with Alarms:Good Ventilation:Easy Exits:Secure and Organized Storage:DownloadFront-of-House:Professional Line Cleaners: