Incident at NY mall shines spotlight on carbon monoxide detection

Lawmakers push for legislation requiring the installation of CO detectors in businesses

Hoeferle said that the costs for businesses from the liability of having an undetected carbon monoxide leak – employee lawsuits, lost productivity and business disruption - far outweigh those of installing detection equipment. He also believes there is still a lack of awareness among the general populace about the dangers and prevalence of carbon monoxide.  

“Part of me thinks that people just don’t understand (carbon monoxide). It’s invisible, you can’t see it, so they just don’t understand it as well,” added Hoeferle. “Some people don’t understand the sources of it, where it comes from. Even in a residential setting, it could be a car running in the garage and they never thought to put in CO detection.”

Additionally, Kris Cahill, also a senior product marketing manager with System Sensor, said one of the problems with carbon monoxide leaks is that they oftentimes originate in places where people least expect it.  “People don’t expect it from a swimming pool, but it’s the devices associated with the swimming pool and it’s the furnaces and things like that,” she said. “It’s not what you might expect sometimes and that I think is the Catch-22.”

With the crackdown that many municipalities across the nation have had on false burglar and fire alarms by imposing fines on repeat offenders, some businesses owners may be worried about possible nuisance alarms, but Hoeferle says that’s “very, very rare” with CO detectors nowadays.

“Back in 1998, there was an incident in Chicago where there was a thermal inversion and basically a layer of car exhaust was trapped at a low level to the ground for a number of days. At that time, it was enough to set off the alarm threshold on all the CO detectors, so it was kind of a major incident,” explained Hoeferle. “Since then, Underwriters Laboratories has changed the alarm thresholds for CO detectors to account for both the amount of CO and the amount of time.”  

Harper believes that business owners need to implement fire and carbon monoxide protection systems appropriate to the risks or hazards they face.

“I’m not saying CO detectors are completely inappropriate. In an older building, it might be a wise item,” Harper added. “I think you have to look at how easily it could be done and where they would be located. At one point, there were codes requiring (CO) detectors everywhere in buildings, including commercial buildings, and (some) were very far from where the fuel-burning appliance was. I think those codes have finally been changed and they are a little bit more appropriate to what the hazard is. Again, I think it needs to be measured and it needs to be considered based on the hazard.”