CO2 Safety in Restaurants, Bars, Venues

Carbon dioxide (CO2) safety is critical in restaurants, bars, breweries, venues or anywhere that uses cylinders or bulk tanks of compressed CO2.

Since the pandemic, the topic of CO2 safety has grown to include indoor air quality in these establishments. Clean air quality monitoring guidelines have been added  by several states and localities as indoor CO2 levels can be used as an indicator of overall air quality for customer health and safety.

Why is CO2 Safety Important?

CO2 gas levels above 5% (50,000 ppm) by volume in indoor air can be fatal.

While an owner or manager often considers an accident in their business from the point of view of the victims or the business, they may not see it from the perspective of the emergency first-responder that is called when an incident occurs – like when an employee is exposed to high levels of CO2.

With the increased use of stored CO2, these types of incidents occur more often than one would expect. This is why CO2 storage codes and regulations have been established by the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA), the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), the National Boiler and Inspection Code (NBIC) and International Fire Code (IFC).

For more information on CO2 Safety, please contact Andrew Ray.

CO2 Safety Incidents

For example, a report from the National Firefighter Near-Miss Program run by the International Association of Fire Chiefs goes into detail about a CO2 exposure incident. According to the report an “unknown odor” caused an employee to leave a restaurant while a bread truck driver stayed inside. Firefighters entered the building wearing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) gear. After successfully recovering the unconscious driver at the scene,  they tried to determine the cause of the problem.

According to the report:

“The O2 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. Other victims have not been so lucky.

  • In Georgia, an elderly woman died after being found unconscious in a  restaurant bathroom. The 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.
  • In Phoenix, a restaurant employee passed out in a stairwell to the basement of a restaurant. Two rescuers who responded to the scene also got sick. The manager said the CO2 tank had been refilled a couple hours earlier.
  • 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 died when he tried to help the employee.
  • In Atlanta, a technician was servicing the draft beer system at a MLB stadium when he became trapped in the cooler and died.
  • In Houston, a CO2 leak in a coffee processing company killed an employee. CO2 is used to decaffeinate coffee.

With an increased use of stored CO2 in restaurants, bars and venues these kind of incidents are becoming more common.

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 the gas distribution industry and restaurant owners was the potential for injury should a leak occur in either a cylinder or bulk tank.

The primary safety concern is carbon dioxide leaks after the cylinder or tank. While the cylinders or tanks are designed to withstand pressure and damage, the pipes, hoses, and fittings used to distribute the gas after the vessel are not.

Learn more about CO2 Tank and CO2 Cylinder Safety.

Does Your Business Need a CO2 Safety Monitor?

The answer is, yes. Unfortunately, things can go wrong fast without proper carbon dioxide monitors installed.

CO2 is an inert gas found naturally in air. While not declared hazardous by OSHA, it is deadly above 5% concentration which can be caused by CO2 system leaks. To mitigate this risk many states and local jurisdictions now require certain precautions when working in and around CO2.

Without these precautions in place, CO2 can cause severe negative health effects from headaches and fatigue to dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness and even fatal injuries.

That’s why it is important to keep your facility compliant with the regulations in place requiring CO2 detectors or monitoring devices.

Facilities that are out of compliance have received fines exceeding $500 per day plus court costs in some jurisdictions.

Below, is a list of easy to follow guidelines to ensure that your restaurant, bar, winery, or venue complies with the state and local safety regulations and codes.

Preventing CO2 injuries in your Restaurant, Brewery, Bar or Venue

Here are 5 things business owners and managers can do to prevent CO2-related injuries in their establishment.

1. Have your CO2 system 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 most cases, the CO2 supplier will also install the equipment. If you use a 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. Install proper safety signage

CO2 Safety Sign

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 cooler doors  so they can be viewed prior to entry.

NFPA Placard

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 high 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.

It is important to always remember as an industry leader you should reinforce the importance that working in and around carbon dioxide could result in serious injury or fatality.

Being able to address worker safety issues and discuss which procedures or areas could hold potential CO2 leak points is paramount. Conducting a facility survey as well as an employee assessment is the first step to understanding your hazards and creating a plan to mitigate them in an effort to reduce the rate of incidents and improve overall employee awareness.

Education and training are the most important aspect of employee safety.

Having co2 monitors and detectors is critical but training employees about these devices, and alarm procedures is also vital. Carbon dioxide gas is heavier than air, and paying attention to the level of CO2 in your workspace will save lives.

View CO2 Diagram Example

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. Use CO2 safety training resources

Ensuring safety in the workplace is important. Fortunately, there are tools available such as Brewer Association – Podcasts for CO2 Exposure, or this Brewery’s CO2 Safety Worksheet (pdf) that can be a valuable resource to breweries, wineries or anyone who works with stored CO2.

Creating standard operating procedures or “SOPs” are also critical to staff training and development both for current and future employees.

In the event that someone in your establishment has been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, it is important to hold training sessions so that personnel recognize how to contact emergency personnel and are trained on when to reenter a confined space after a CO2 alarm has sounded.

Building a sense of community and trust within the team is a great start to making it easier for the workplace to be open and communicative in terms of understanding CO2 topics in the workplace.

5. Use a CO2 storage safety alarm

co2 storage safety alarm

The RAD-0102-6 Remote CO2 Storage Safety Alarm, 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 trigger 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.

CO2 Multi Sensor System for CO2 Monitoring in Restaurants Breweries and Beverage Industries

In addition, CO2Meter also offers the CO2 Multi-Sensor System which uses a single control tablet with multiple sensors and alarms.

The CM-7000 was designed to ensure fire code compliance in every state. It can control up to 60 CO2 sensors to meet OSHA/NIOSH standards.

It is important to note that the real benefit of any gas detection safety alarm is that it gives you and your employees peace of mind, and added time 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.

Indoor Air Quality in Restaurants

In addition to CO2 safety alarms, since COVID state and local jurisdictions have added indoor air quality monitoring wherever food or beverages are consumed. The rationale is that lower CO2 levels indoors indicate lower levels of  microscopic organisms like viruses in the air.

In general, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends that CO2 levels be maintained below 1,000 ppm.

The benefit of maintaining good indoor air quality in restaurants, bars, micro breweries and venues is that it not only protects staff and customers health, but can be used to build trust in an establishment which increases business.

CO2 in Venues: A Real – World Example

co2 levels at venue

The McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois is the largest convention center in North America. During a trade show, CO2Meter placed a CO2 Handheld Detector and Alarm in the Main Hall for 5 days. The CO2 levels varied from 400ppm to 2,400ppm with the lowest levels on days 1 and 5 (setup and tear down with bay doors open) and the highest levels during the actual trade show.

While the CO2 levels were never dangerous, this graph shows that human respiration alone can impact indoor CO2 levels – even in a large area. CO2 is heavier than air and tends to accumulate at floor level.

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