CO2 Safety in Restaurants, Bars, Venues

The worst fear of a business owner is an accident or injury in their establishment. While an owner or manager considers each incident from the point of view of the victims, employees, and the business, they may not see it from the perspective of the emergency first-responders that are called in when an incident occurs - like when an employee or guest is exposed to high levels of CO2.

This is why we incorporated this report from the National Firefighter Near-Miss Program run by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

In the report, a fire chief describes how his crew responded to a 9-1-1 call for a possible heart attack. A bread delivery driver with access to a restaurant before opening hours had set off the burglar alarm. Once on the scene, a firefighter reported an “unknown odor” which caused him to leave the restaurant and the driver inside.

While an engineer turned off the gas main, the firefighters entered the building wearing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) gear. They recovered the unconscious driver, then tried to determine the cause of the problem.

According to the report:

"The O2 (oxygen) in the building was found to be at 19.2%. It was determined that the restaurant's gas company which fills their CO2 bottles for soda outside, connected to a port which was inoperable. The carbon dioxide displaced the oxygen in the building causing the victim to lose consciousness and fall. Fortunately, the victim set off the burglar alarm.”

You can read the full report here.

While the bread driver was fortunate in this instance, it was only because of a combination of luck and the well-trained emergency first responders.

Why CO2 Leaks Can be Deadly

Other victims have not been so lucky.

• An elderly woman died after being found unconscious in a bathroom in Georgia. An investigation revealed that she succumbed to a lethal dose of carbon dioxide from a broken/disconnected line in the ceiling which caused a CO2 buildup in the stall. Nine people were taken to the hospital as a result of the incident.

• In Phoenix, an employee passed out in a stairwell to the basement of a restaurant. Two firefighters who responded to the scene also got sick. The manager of the restaurant said the tank had been refilled a couple hours before the woman passed out.

• In another case, a restaurant employee was trying to help the driver for the gas delivery company that fills the liquid CO2 tanks when he died of asphyxiation. The driver also died when he tried to help the employee.

• In Houston, TX a CO2 leak in a coffee processing company killed an employee. CO2 is used to decaffeinate coffee.

Why the sudden rise in CO2-related injuries?

Bulk/liquid CO2 delivery systems have seen significant growth over the last two decades. The cost and labor savings provided by switching from smaller cylinders to larger, bulk tanks are well known. What was not originally considered by restaurant owners was the potential for injury should a leak occur in either a cylinder or bulk tank.

Preventing CO2 injuries in your restaurant, brewery, bar or venue

There are several things business owners and managers can do to prevent CO2-related injuries in their establishment.

1. Have CO2 systems installed by a reputable and bonded contractor

Whether you intend on utilizing cylinders or bulk storage tanks ask your CO2 supplier for recommendations on systems and the installation process. In some cases, the CO2 supplier may also install the equipment. If you use an 3rd party contractor to install the CO2 feed gas lines in the building or to install your soda or draft beer system make sure they are also trained and insured for hazardous gas line installation.  

After the equipment is installed, pay special attention to the warnings in the instruction manual and documentation. Ask your CO2 provider to conduct a leak test once the system is charged and operational.  Ask the same supplier to come back on a regular basis to inspect and test annually.

2. Proper signage

Ensure all staff is educated on proper CO2 hazard points and confined space markings in your establishment.  CO2 warning signs should be clearly visible anywhere CO2 is stored or used. If you use an indoor cylinder or tank the signs should be posted outside the room where the tank or cylinder is stored. If you use outdoor cylinders or tanks, the signs should be posted at the entrance to the room where the CO2 enters the building. If your establishment utilizes a keg cooler or cold box, the signs should be posted directly outside the doors prior to entry. 

Emergency first responders can also benefit from NFPA 704 diamond placards on the building exterior. These signs perform a valuable function. They give emergency response personnel like firefighters an immediate indicator of the potential danger of the chemicals or gas inside a building. This addresses the health, flammability, instability, and special hazards presented from short‐term, acute exposures that could occur as a result of a fire, spill, or similar emergency. Ask your gas provider to install the NFPA 704 signage.  Note that some states do not require NFPA 704 signage.

The National Board Inspection Code lists specific information that must be posted wherever CO2 storage tanks are used. Click here to download and print the required signage in both English and Spanish (PDF).

3. Employee training

If your employees feel faint/dizzy or if they exhibit signs of nausea what should they do? While CO2 is odorless, colorless, and tasteless those who have been exposed to higher concentrations of gas report a sharp, acidic odor that burns in the sinuses. Employees most at risk are those who attempt to discover the source of the odor instead of notifying other staff and patrons and immediately seeking fresh air. You should have a “gas leak” policy in place for CO2 and any other hazardous gas – that every employee is aware of. Make sure employees know what to do if they accidentally disconnect or damage a CO2 line. Consider running emergency drills during off-hours.  Preparation is the key to safety.

4. Install CO2 storage safety alarms

co2 storage safety alarm

While CO2 safety alarms like our RAD-0102-6 are important, they are not a replacement for any of the safety precautions listed above. The RAD-0102-6 is designed to protect customers and workers around stored carbon dioxide in restaurants, breweries, wineries, and beverage dispensing areas in bars or venues. The device has audible and visual alarms at 0.5% CO2, 1.5% CO2 and 3.0% CO2 per OSHA standards that can control a ventilation fan or send an alarm to the fire department or monitoring company.

Our RAD-0102-6 also has an additional alarm that sounds if the 5,000 ppm OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) TWA (time-weighted average) for CO2 levels are exceeded in an 8-hour workday.

In addition, CO2Meter also recently released its newest CO2 Safety addition the CO2 Multi-Sensor System (CM-7000) with enhanced functionality and custom capabilities.

The CM-7000 was specifically designed to ensure fire code CO2 Multi Sensor System for CO2 Monitoring in Restaurants Breweries and Beverage Industriescompliance in any state (including Denver, CO) and features 12 unique sensor configurations, audible/visual alarms, and 4 relays that are triggered to meet OSHA/NIOSH standards.

The device will furthermore provide greater flexibility for restaurant, brewery, and beverage owners with its modern, 8" touch-screen panel display, and password protected capabilities to ensure authorized personnel access.

For those industry professionals looking for additional portable carbon dioxide monitoring solutions, CO2Meter provides an array of handheld gas detection options dependent upon industry, gas concentration, and overall use case. View our portable gas detection devices, here.

The real benefit of any gas detection safety alarm is that it gives you and your employees precious additional seconds to respond to a CO2 leak before a tragedy occurs. In addition, the majority of local and state municipalities now require CO2 safety alarms in any facility or establishment that uses or stores carbon dioxide.

For more information on CO2 safety and compliance in restaurants, bars, or venues or to obtain a customized standard operating procedure (SOP) for your establishment - Contact us today.


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