Among the several safety hazards tied to the winemaking process is potential overexposure to carbon dioxide gas (CO2). Storage tanks, fermentation and bottling rooms, and barrel cellars are each common locations with dangerous levels of CO2. Because the fermentation process produces CO2, inadequately ventilated areas where this process occurs will always present concerns.

Carbon dioxide is a product of combustion, respiration, and in the case of winemaking, fermentation. It is odorless, colorless, and nonflammable, but can be toxic to humans in certain quantities because it displaces the needed oxygen for respiration.

Symptoms of overexposure:

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

A potential effect of overexposure is losing consciousness, which could result in a fall that further injures the worker.

To quantify the severity of CO2 exposure, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL), Short-Term Exposure Limits (STEL), and Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Limits (IDLH). These are expressed in parts per million (PPM). Beginning at levels of 10,000 PPM, humans can start to have difficulty breathing. Symptoms, of course, worsen as the concentration of CO2 increases beyond that level.

OSHA’s regulated concentration levels:
  • PEL: 5,000 PPM – 8-hour time weight average (TWA)
  • STEL: 30,000 PPM – Exposure should be limited to 15 minutes or less
  • IDHL: 50,000 PPM – Leave the area immediately
Safety measures we recommend you to take:
  1. Ensure Adequate Ventilation and fresh air during the fermentation process in tank rooms, barrel rooms, cellars, and any other area that may accumulate CO2.
  2. Test CO2 Levels in work areas, or areas where employees may enter, which could have elevated levels of CO2. Meters that test for carbon dioxide can be purchased from a variety of retailers.
  3. Provide Hazard Communication Training to employees so they are aware of the effects and safe work practices around CO2.
  4. Prevent Employees from Placing their Heads into Confined Spaces without first testing the air in accordance with a Permit-Required Confined Space Program.
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