Preventing CO2 Injuries from Occuring in your Establishment

The worst fear of any venue owner or manager, is an accident or injury to a customer in their establishment.

Teams train to insure their response to accidents are timely, thorough, and with the utmost respect for any victims. Often times insurance companies mandate employee training to minimize risk and exposure too. But our work in the last year with large corporate clients has demonstrated that people rarely consider the effects or hazards to first responders during an incident.

Rarely do you hear anyone ask “I wonder how the fire department will want to enter the building if we have that accident?”..

So when we were communicating with fire inspectors and marshals during our “CO2 Safety Training Sessions” we found it extremely interesting and valuable to get their feedback about how they approach incidents from a “first responders” point of view as well as form an “accident investigation” standpoint.

A training we conducted for fire personnel in Oregon led us to read this report from the National Firefighter Near-Miss Program. This publication from the International Association of Fire Chiefs details the activities of fire personnel during hazardous incidents.

In the report, a fire chief describes how his crew responded to a 911 call for a possible heart attack. The delivery driver who had access to the facility prior to morning opening had accidentally tripped the burglar alarm. Once on scene, firefighters reported a suspicious light-headed feeling and an “unknown odor” causing the crew to leave the facility and the driver inside. The first responders were unaware of the potential hazards inside the facility because management had failed to post the appropriate placards.

While an engineer worked to turn off the gas main, the firefighters returned and entered the building wearing full breathing (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 driver was fortunate in this instance, it was only because of a combination of luck and the well-trained emergency first responders.

The owners and managers of this facility should have worked with their gas supplier to post the appropriate signage they could not have conceived of or trained for this incident. The only way to have thwarted the incident would be to have purchased and installed a CO2 safety monitor to measure for elevated levels of gas per the fire code.

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 she succumbed to a lethal dose of carbon dioxide from a disconnected line in the wall which caused a CO2 buildup in the stall. Nine people were taken to the hospital as a result of the incident.

• A special effects engineer was found dead at a Tennessee theater after the effects machine malfunctioned causing a CO2 leak.

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

•A draft beer technician in a professional baseball stadium passed out and died late at night while working on the draft beer system.

Why the sudden rise in CO2-related injuries?

Bulk liquid CO2 delivery systems have seen significant growth over the last decade. The cost and labor savings provided by switching from high pressure cylinders bulk storage vessels is well documented. Bulk CO2 storage is the best way to insure your facility never runs out of soda or beer during large events.  What was not originally considered by facility owners was the potential for injury should a leak occur.

Preventing CO2 injuries in your facility or venue

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

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

If you are switching over to bulk CO2, ask your gas supplier for recommendations on systems. In most cases, the bulk CO2 supplier will also install the equipment. Insure that your gas supplier or contractor is 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 for the storage vessel and equipment.  Proper maintenance is paramount to the functionality of the beverage system and can prevent hazardous incidents. 

2. Proper signage

CO2 warning signs should be clearly visible anywhere bulk CO2 is stored or used. If you use an indoor tank the signs should be posted outside the room where the tank is placed. If you use an outdoor tank, signage should be posted on the exterior entrance door to the building.

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 what potential hazards are found on site. 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. 

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

Any facility with installed safety monitors should train their staff on the devices use case and alarm functionality.  Every facility should have its own policy for training staff about the devices use and alarm parameters as well as evacuation procedures and muster stations should an incident occur.  Consider running emergency drills in off-hours.

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 breweries, wineries and soft drink dispensing areas in restaurants or amusement venues. It also has audible and visual alarms 1.5% CO2 and 3% CO2 that can control a ventilation fan or send an alarm to the fire department or monitoring company.

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

The real benefit of a safety alarm is that it gives you and your employees precious additional seconds to respond to a CO2 leak before tragedy occurs. In addition, many local municipalities now require CO2 safety alarms in any restaurant that uses bulk CO2.


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