Carbon Dioxide Safety in Restaurants and Venues

The past year has brought confusion to business owners in the restaurant and beverage industry – particularly those in Washington State – due to a series of new open-air regulations for restaurants.

Business owners and managers had always focused on complying with local regulations and keeping employees safe from CO2 exposure, but it is now necessary to adhere to additional air quality monitoring guidelines.

CO2Meter offers a range of solutions to accommodate and address any concerns surrounding CO2 in the restaurant environment, including safety, analysis or air quality monitoring.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Safety Assurance

Owners and managers tend to consider an incident from the perspective of its victims, employees or the business itself, rather than considering the needs of an emergency first-responder called in when an incident occurs. For example, when an employee is exposed to dangerously high levels of CO2.

This type of incident occurs more frequently than many people realize, prompting the implementation of a range of regulations around CO2 by organizations such as the NFPA, IFC and NBIC.

A report from the National Firefighter Near-Miss Program run by the International Association of Fire Chiefs provides considerable detail about a real-world incident of CO2 exposure. The gas was reported as an “unknown odor,” prompting an employee to exit a restaurant while a bread truck driver remained inside.

An engineer was able to switch off the gas supply, but the firefighters still opted to enter the building wearing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) gear. After recovering the unconscious bread truck driver at the scene, the firefighters worked to ascertain the cause of the issue.

The report states: “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 that 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.”

The bread truck driver was fortunate in this case, but this was primarily due to a combination of highly-trained emergency first responders and luck.

Why CO2 Leaks can be Deadly

Other victims have not been as fortunate as the bread truck driver mentioned above.

In Georgia, an elderly woman was found unconscious in a bathroom. She later died. The investigation determined that she had suffered from a lethal dose of carbon dioxide from a broken or disconnected line in the ceiling.

This line had caused a CO2 build-up in the stall. A total of nine people had to be admitted to hospital as a result of the incident.

In Phoenix, an employee lost consciousness in a stairwell leading to the basement of a restaurant. Two firefighters responding to the incident also became ill. A discussion with the restaurant’s manager revealed that the tank had been refilled a few hours before the employee lost consciousness.

Another incident involved a restaurant employee attempting to help the driver from a gas delivery company that is responsible for filling liquid CO2 tanks. The employee died of asphyxiation, and the driver died while trying to help the employee.

Finally, in Houston, TX, an employee died due to a CO2 leak in a coffee processing company. CO2 is used to decaffeinate coffee in this setting.

Explaining the Rise in CO2-Related Injuries

There has been increasing use of bulk and liquid CO2 delivery systems over the past two decades. This has been driven in part due to the widely-recognized cost and labor savings associated with migrating from smaller cylinders to larger, bulk tanks.

Despite these advantages, many restaurant owners failed to consider the potential for injury if a leak occurs in a cylinder or bulk tank.

Preventing CO2 Injuries in a Restaurant, Venue, Brewery or Bar

There are a number of steps that business owners and managers can take to help minimize the risk of CO2-related injuries in their establishments.

Work With a Bonded and Reputable Contractor

Whether a restaurant plans on employing cylinders or bulk storage tanks, it is advisable to seek advice from an experienced CO2 supplier on the best choice of system and installation process.

In some instances, a CO2 supplier may also install the equipment. Where restaurants opt to hire a third-party contractor to install CO2 feed gas lines, a soda or draft beer system, it is advisable to ensure that the installers are also trained and insured for hazardous gas line installation. 

Once the equipment has been installed, restaurant owners and employees should study the warnings in the instruction manual and documentation carefully.

It is also prudent to ask the CO2 provider to perform a leak test once the system is charged and functional and return on an annual basis to inspect and test the system.

Maintain Proper Signage

All employees should be educated on CO2 hazard points and confined space markings, and CO2 warning signs should be visible and clear in any location where CO2 is used or stored.

Signage should be installed outside any room where an indoor cylinder or tank is stored. Where outdoor cylinders or tanks are used, signage should be installed at the entrance to the room where the CO2 first enters the building.

Establishments using a keg cooler or cold box should install signage directly outside the cooler doors so these can be viewed prior to entry.

Emergency first responders also benefit from the display of NFPA 704 diamond placards on the building exterior.

These signs provide emergency response personnel like firefighters with a valuable and immediate indication of the presence of potentially dangerous chemicals or gas inside a building.

These placards provide details on any related health, flammability, instability and special hazards presented from acute, short‐term exposures that could occur due to a fire, spill or other emergencies.

A good gas provider should be able to provide the relevant NFPA 704 signage, though this is not required in every state. The National Board Inspection Code provides specific information that must be posted wherever CO2 storage tanks are used.

Ensure Employees are Well Trained

Employees should know what to do if they feel faint or dizzy or if they exhibit signs of nausea. CO2 is colorless, odorless and tasteless, but people exposed to high concentrations of the gas have been known to report a sharp, acidic odor that burns the sinuses.

The most at-risk employees are those seeking to discover the source of the odor, rather than notifying other staff and patrons and immediately relocating to an environment with ample fresh air.

A ‘gas leak’ policy should be in place for CO2 or any other hazardous gas, and every employee should be made aware of this. Employees should also know what to do if they accidentally damage or disconnect a CO2 line.

It may even be advantageous to run emergency drills during off-hours. Overall, proper preparation is the key to employee and patron safety.

Install CO2 Storage Safety Alarms

The RAD-0102-6 Remote CO2 Storage Safety Alarm has been specifically designed to protect customers and employees around stored carbon dioxide in restaurants, wineries, breweries and beverage dispensing areas in venues or bars.

Carbon Dioxide Safety in Restaurants and Venues

Image Credit: CO2Meter, Inc.

This reliable, easy-to-use device has audible and visual alarms at 0.5% CO2, 1.5% CO2 and 3.0% CO2 in line with OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) standards.

Once these alarms have been triggered, it is possible to have them control a ventilation fan or trigger an alarm to a monitoring company or the fire department.

The RAD-0102-6 also has an additional alarm that is triggered if the 5000 ppm OSHA TWA (time-weighted average) for CO2 levels is exceeded in a standard 8-hour workday.

CO2Meter also offers a fixed/wall-mounted CO2 safety alarm option – the CO2 Multi-Sensor System (CM-7000) – which features an array of enhanced functionalities and custom capabilities.

The CM-7000 has been designed to be a fire code-compliant CO2 multi-sensor system for CO2 monitoring in restaurants, breweries and other beverage industries.

Carbon Dioxide Safety in Restaurants and Venues

Image Credit: CO2Meter, Inc.

The system is compliant in every state and boasts twelve unique sensor configurations, audible and visual alarms, and a total of four relays, each designed to meet OSHA and NIOSH standards.

The device also features a modern, 8” touchscreen panel display and comes complete with password-protected software to ensure that authorized personnel can access it.

Industry professionals looking for portable carbon dioxide monitoring solutions are advised to explore CO2Meter’s comprehensive portfolio of handheld gas detection systems.

Systems are available to accommodate a range of industries, gas concentrations and overall use cases.

The most tangible benefit of a gas detection safety alarm is its ability to afford employees, managers and owners peace of mind. It also ensures that there is more time to respond to a CO2 leak before a tragedy occurs.

Most local and state municipalities also require CO2 safety alarms in any establishment or facility that uses or stores carbon dioxide.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by CO2Meter, Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit CO2Meter, Inc.


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