Carbon Monoxide: Protecting Your Guests, Safeguarding Your Property

While carbon monoxide poisoning at hotels is extremely rare, hotel owners and operators should practice regular maintenance and checks on equipment and systems to ensure the highest standards of guest and employee safety. During the AH&LA webinar “Carbon Monoxide: Protecting Your Guests, Safeguarding Your Property” last Thursday, experts discussed new code requirements that impact hotels, as well as tips for installing CO alarms and detectors and implementing a response plan.

In 2012, the International Fire Code (IFC) instituted requirements for carbon monoxide alarms within hotels and other types of buildings for the first time. This code requires CO alarms in all guestrooms or alternately a CO detection system in all common areas. “That is a bit of overkill and ironically the 2012 code does not require a CO alarm in a room with a fuel-fired appliance, which is the potential source of CO,” said Thomas Daly, principal and managing member of Hospitality Security Consulting Group.

The 2015 IFC code, which was released in June, only requires CO alarms in rooms with fuel-fired appliances (generators, boilers, pool heaters, fireplaces, etc.) or rooms adjacent to unventilated garages. On average, a standard hotel would only need between five and 10 CO alarms, Daly said.

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Forty-four states adopt the IFC as the basis for their state, county, or city code, Daly said, and there more than a dozen states that already have some form of CO regulations in various parts of their code. “If you’re in a state like Massachusetts or New Jersey who’s had this on the books for a decade or so, you’re probably already in compliance, but if you’re in a state that’s just getting into this matter, checking your local code and state code is very important.”

When New Jersey and Massachusetts rolled out their CO requirements in the early 2000s, it impacted a lot of Marriott hotels, said Stacy Welch, senior director of fire protection and life safety at Marriott International. This prompted the company to develop a CO standard in 2002 with a required implementation date of June 2003 for all new and existing hotels in the portfolio. “We really started to pay particular attention to it, and at the same time there were incidents in hotels that are ongoing, unfortunately, that really brought it to the forefront,” Welch said.

Daly stressed how important it is for the hotel industry to look at what’s coming. North Carolina, which had previously adopted the 2012 IFC, recently directed its regulatory body to approve a change to the 2015 language for CO alarms, effective June 2015. This will affect both new and existing hotels in the state. California, by virtue of a bill passed two years ago, will consider the same issue of adopting the 2015 language and implementing it effective Jan. 1, 2016, Daly said.

“The state hotel associations need to be proactive with their state legislators or regulators if they are in the consideration process for adopting the 2012 codes, because the language is inappropriate and the IFC has fixed that with the 2015 language.”

If your state has already adopted the 2012 codes, there is nothing to preclude a state hotel association for filing a petition for a rule change, Daly added. “Given the success we’ve had in North Carolina, that would be a model to point to.”

When installing CO detection systems and devices, hotels must seek approval from the authority having jurisdiction. This refers to the agencies and groups, such as the state, county, or city, as well as brand standards, that regulate life safety systems in your building.

Equipment options run from simple alarms to more complex system-style detection, said Byron Briese, SVP of Rolf Jensen & Associates. The simplest arrangement is single- or multiple-station alarms, which include battery-operated, plug-in, and hardwired with battery backup, or combination smoke alarm/CO, which have become a lot more popular in the last few years.

“Things are going to change by your building configuration, particularly with the location and separation of your CO sources,” Briese said. “We do a lot of hotel projects and rarely see a building where there isn’t at least some potential for CO generation in an inadvertent situation.”

Another option that has great promise for the future is wireless technology, he added, but it’s still evolving.

Briese outlined a few key things to look when it comes to CO alarms:

  • Single- or multiple-station carbon monoxide alarms must comply with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Standard 2034
  • Combination units must comply with both UL 2034 and UL 217 standards
  • Review with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)
  • If using a combination unit, consider smoke detection requirements
  • Locate per manufacturer’s requirements

He also shared some tips for installation of fire alarm systems with CO detection:

  • Engage a qualified contractor
  • CO units must comply with UL Standard 2075 (Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors)
  • Combination units must comply with UL 268 (Smoke Detectors for Fire Alarm Systems), UL 268C, and UL 2075 standards
  • Formal review with authority having jurisdiction
  • Potential re-acceptance test of fire alarm system
  • If using a combination unit, consider smoke detection requirements
  • Locate per manufacture’s and code requirements

Cost considerations include the capital costs of the alarms or system-style detection, ongoing costs of inspection and testing of units or systems, maintenance costs of replacing CO-sensing elements, and the indirect costs of installation, such as business displacement and staff effort.

“Don’t be complacent. Understand the extent of the work you’re going to require,” Briese said. “Understand the technical fix you’re going to need, and be realistic about the timing to achieve compliance.”

Marriott’s Welch also stressed the importance of educating employees on the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which may include headaches, nausea, and drowsiness, and implementing a CO alarm response plan.

Here’s what to do if a detector goes off:

  • Turn off equipment or appliance if safe to do so
  • Ventilate area by opening doors and windows
  • If anyone is experiencing flu-like symptoms, call the fire department and evacuate the building
  • Have equipment or appliance serviced by a qualified technician