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Safety considerations in your wine lab this vintage

Greg Howell

Vintessential Laboratories

Vintessential has built and opened three new wine testing laboratories in the past year – in Orange New South Wales, Hobart Tasmania and the Margaret River region of Western Australia. If our experience is any guide, your lab may be working outside the requirements of the appropriate Australian Standards! A winery laboratory is an integral and important part of the winemaking process and, just as all other parts of winery operations should be safely managed, so should the laboratory. In this article we look at a number of Occupational Health and Safety features that can be used in the safe running of your own winery laboratory. During vintage, have a close look around your lab and observe if you have all these features – if not you might need to consider some future upgrades.

 

Safety Features

During the recent construction and fit-out of our new labs we discovered what we had to do to be compliant with certain standards and regulations. In some cases we needed to retrofit, in others we had learnt some lessons and were able to plan better for the safety features that were required.

1. Emergency Shut off valves for Bunsen burner gas

We had a new lab built at the Charles Sturt University Orange campus in late 2015 and opened it in early 2016. At completion the University safety officer did an inspection with copies of the Australian Standard AS 2982 Laboratory Design and Construction and AS 2243 Safety in Laboratories in hand. It was pointed out that we didn’t have a Gas Emergency Shut-off Valve as required; one was retrofitted promptly.

In late 2016 during the renovation of our new premises in Hobart (previously Allison Laboratories) we were advised by the plumber that we needed an electronic gas shut-off system. Upon discussing this with the gas inspector, we discovered that this was the inspector’s preferred shut-off system, but was not actually required by the standard. Although an electronic system is a good idea, it was very expensive so we stayed with a lever action ball valve as we were satisfied it was sufficient for our needs.

2. Safety shower

According to AS 2243 (1):    

“The following safety equipment shall be available and accessible to users of the laboratory…

(a) A permanently fixed, aerated eyewash facility capable of operation in a hands-free mode once activated.

(b) At least one safety shower capable of operation in a hands-free mode once activated”

The location of the safety shower is important – it should be easy to get to, and importantly checked regularly to ensure that it operates properly.

3. Solvents storage

There can be a number of flammable solvents that are routinely used in a wine testing lab. The ones used will depend upon what tests are done and which technique is used to do these tests. AS 2243 (1) specifies the volumes that are required to be kept in a purpose-designed cabinet, typically called a Flammables Cabinet. 

Other chemicals typically used in a wine lab should also be segregated into their particular class, e.g. Corrosives or Oxidising Agents, and stored accordingly. Most other chemicals normally used in wine labs will not require such stringent containment as is the case with Flammables.

4. Fume cupboard

Fume cupboards are a subject on their own. In fact AS 2243 part 8 (1) is dedicated to all aspects of fume cupboard design and usage. One important aspect of placing the fume cupboard in a lab is to ensure that the incoming airflow is not interrupted by drafts from nearby doorways or flows from air-conditioning vents. It is highly recommended that a specialist fume cupboard technician conducts a survey of the device and produces a report to show the airflow meets the standard of 0.5 m/s. 

5. Electrical safety

Of course electrical standards are designated elsewhere and the electrician you use should be well aware of them. Relevant aspects for laboratories are covered by AS 2243 part 7.

Some lab equipment items, such as fume cupboards and some ovens, may require 3 phase power or higher capacity circuits - for example we needed to install a 32 A circuit for our fume cupboard in Hobart. It’s a very good idea to ensure this wiring is allowed for in the planning stages of a build.

6. Chemical resistant surfaces

Walls, floors and benchtops in a lab should be chemical resistant, impervious, smooth and easy to clean (2). There are numerous ways this can be achieved. It pays to consider what you have, or plan to have, and get ideas and recommendations from suppliers. Chemical resistant paint for walls, chemical resistant laminate for benchtops and sealed commercial lino for flooring are just some of the materials we have used to meet these needs.

7. Safe working distance in aisles

AS 2982 mandates the space between workbenches (2). This varies between 1.0 m and 1.8 m depending on whether the aisle is a thoroughfare and if staff are working on both sides of the aisle. These distances should be incorporated into the design of the workspace and the work benches. There are plenty of winery labs we have seen that are converted offices, storerooms and other hidey-holes, some of which are unlikely to meet this requirement.

8. Waste water treatment and permits

Although not a safety issue, this regulatory requirement may be relevant to you, depending on which region or state your lab is located. In our new Hobart lab, the previous laboratory business operated from the premises for over 40 years without any waste water treatment system. As new owners with a new testing regime, we were advised by the local authority to install a system to neutralise all aqueous waste. The chemicals that go through a lab are generally very small in volume as compared to a winery, however often they are quite different and may require a permit to be obtained specifically for the lab.

Conclusion

Vintage is a good time to have a serious look around your wine lab and prepare a list of the safety features that you think are deficient. Some of the main safety features we have had to consider this past year in building three new labs have been listed above and cover the major requirements of the standards mentioned. The Australian Standards AS 2243 and AS 2982 are very important documents and are excellent guides on how to plan, build and run laboratories in a safe manner.

References

  1. AS 2243, Safety in laboratories, Standards Australia, 1 June 2004, Sydney
  1. AS 2982, Laboratory design and construction, Standards Australia, 12 March 2010, Sydney

Greg Howell founded Vintessential Laboratories in 1995, he can be contacted by email on greg@vintessential.com.au. More articles on related topics are available on the Vintessential website: www.vintessential.com.au/resources/articles/