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Choosing the Right Carbon Monoxide Detector

For those who work in industrial or commercial environments, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is often just one of the hazards of the job – even for those who don’t work in confined spaces or come in contact with combustible materials on a daily basis.

TWhen it comes to detecting carbon monoxide, the use of both fixed and handheld devices could help save someone's life. In this guide, we'll cover what to look for when choosing a carbon monoxide detector for commercial and industrial use.


Choosing a Carbon Monoxide Detector for Commercial Use

Hotels, schools, healthcare facilities and offices present a number of challenges when it comes to choosing a carbon monoxide detector.

  • High traffic increases the opportunities for damage or theft.
  • The cost of maintenance can take its toll with constant repairs and battery changes.
  • Codes and regulations are important in spaces where property owners and companies have a responsibility for the safety of the general public.

Commercial spaces must often accommodate large numbers of people, may consist of just a few rooms or a large facility, and may have special maintenance procedures in place. The ratings and features that are important in a commercial carbon monoxide detector are much different than what consumers might find valuable for a residential device.

Ratings – When choosing a carbon monoxide detector for commercial use, look for the NFPA 720 rating. This rating addresses systems and devices specified for commercial applications, whereas UL 2034 addresses residential devices only.

Interconnectivity - In a large facility, interconnectivity can be a real life saver. By connecting your CO alarms together, you allow them to communicate with each other. In the event an alarm goes off in one area of the building, all of the alarms will go off, alerting others throughout the building.

Not all CO detectors offer interconnectivity, but if you choose one that does, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • For wireless detectors, make sure they are all made by the same manufacturer or they may not be compatible with each other.
  • For hardwired alarms, those made by different manufacturers can still be connected via an adapter.

Tamper Resistance - Theft and property damage create additional work for maintenance personnel and can cost your company money. A CO detector that has a locking feature that locks both the battery compartment and the detector to the mounting bracket can make it harder for would-be thieves to steal a battery or damage the device, and easier for maintenance personnel to service it.

Choosing a Carbon Monoxide Detector for Industrial Use

According to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the following instances resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning of eleven employees at three different workplaces due to non-existent or inefficient ventilation:

  • After just 2 hours of pressure washing a concrete floor inside a 200 foot-long townhouse garage.
  • Within 1 ½ hours of operating a power screed and two riding-power trowels inside a 12,000 sq. ft. warehouse
  • During the work shift while using a floor-scraper machine to remove tile inside a 22,000 sq. ft. office space. 1

Even with the proper ventilation, pockets of carbon monoxide can still build up in areas where air movement is limited. Workers may also face exposure to multiple gases, as well as the potential for explosions. Handheld carbon monoxide and gas detectors offer features that can safely help you avoid exposure in the work environment.

Ratings and Certifications - Carbon monoxide is a flammable gas. When mixed with other gases it can create an explosive atmosphere that requires the use of specially rated equipment.

  • ATEX and IECEx are two European directives for controlling explosive atmospheres. Equipment that meets this certification has been tested for safety and is intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres without the risk of ignition.
  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA) reflects the standards for explosive environments in Canada, U.S. and Mexico. It is subdivided into 3 classes or divisions that rate the safety of a device in potentially explosive environments.
  • UL 913 is a rating by Underwriter Laboratories for equipment used in hazardous locations.

Power Source – Most handheld gas detectors are battery powered. However, battery life varies greatly among different brands and models and can range from less than 24 hours to a couple of years. You may want to consider one with a rechargeable battery, if possible.

Measurement Range - According to OSHA and NIOSH, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of carbon monoxide in the workplace should not exceed 35 ppm averaged over a work shift of up to 10 hours per day, 40 hours per week and with a ceiling of 200 ppm at any given point in time.

Exposure to levels as low as 35 ppm can cause symptoms such as headaches and dizziness within 6-8 hours. Chronic exposure to low levels, such as daily exposure over the course of years, can result in persistent symptoms such as headaches, depression and memory loss with a potential for permanent damage.

Choosing a carbon monoxide detector with the lowest ppm possible can help you take measures to avoid exposure, even at low levels. Most devices will measure carbon monoxide from 0 ppm and can range up to 1999 ppm, though the measurement limit of the device may also depend on your environmental needs.

Single- or Multi-Gas Detection - Some handheld carbon monoxide detectors also offer the ability to detect other gases such as hydrogen, sulfides and explosion limits. This may increase the price of the unit, but may be helpful to those who work in potentially explosive environments.

Multi-gas detection devices also tend to have a lower detection range for carbon monoxide. A single gas detector might be more appropriate for those that work in environments with high levels of carbon monoxide.

Whether you are installing a fixed detector for commercial use or choosing a handheld device for industrial and confined spaces, using the right tools is the key to detecting carbon monoxide before exposure becomes an issue.