Today’s post comes from guest author Kristen Wolf of Causey Law Firm, a respected group of workers’ advocates in Seattle.
Although Seattle is obviously known for its coffee, boutique gourmet coffee roasting companies are popping up almost everywhere, even in our corner of the Great Plains. As this NPR article shows, there are some potential occupational concerns with a chemical called diacetyl that is a byproduct of the roasting process. This chemical, which is a natural, but not necessarily safe byproduct, contributes to lung disease and respiratory illness, particularly if the coffee that’s being roasted is flavored and if the chemical is found in high concentrations in the air. It is only a concern for those who are roasting or grinding a commercial amount of coffee, so most coffee drinkers need not worry.
Unfortunately, as is seen in the article below, regulators are slow to catch up with many workplace harms, especially when they cause occupational diseases. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – “which can’t pass regulations on this, but can make recommendations – issued a draft version of guidance for safe exposure in August 2011 and expects to release a final version later this year,” according to the article. The article also explains that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) currently has “no plans to make rules regulating diacetyl exposure in workplaces.”
Although the coffee-drinking consumer is not in danger, workers at coffee roasters should explore their employers’ policies regarding workplace safety in general. As business owner Lincoln Fowler in Milwaukee said, he has established best practices in his airflow system to protect against chemicals like diacetyl, but also encourages overall safety, such as training workers to take care when lifting bags of coffee.
“I would argue that potential back problems are probably a much more significant threat,” he said in the article.
If you have an incident at work that results in an injury or an illness that you suspect is related to your work, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for advice in the next steps to take to protect both health and safety.
Heard on Morning Edition, April 15, 2016.
Step into Mike Moon’s Madison, Wis., coffee roasting plant and the aroma of beans — from Brazil to Laos — immediately washes over you.
Moon says he aims to run an efficient and safe plant — and that starts the minute beans spill out of the roaster. He points to a cooling can that is “designed to draw air from the room over the beans and exhausts that air out of the facility. So it is really grabbing a lot of all of the gases coming off the coffee,” he explains.
Why are these gases so worrisome? Because they contain a chemical called diacetyl — a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process that, in large concentrations, can infiltrate the lungs and cause a severe form of lung disease.
You might remember hearing about diacetyl several years ago, when a synthetic version of the chemical, which is used to give a buttery flavor to certain snack foods, was implicated in causing severe lung problems among workers at a microwave popcorn facility.
Now it looks like that chemical could affect the coffee world as well. People at home grinding or brewing up a pot need not worry, but the chemical could pose a danger to people working in commercial coffee roasting plants.