New NY State Law Now Requires Carbon Monoxide Detection in All Restaurants


Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed into law new regulations requiring all restaurants and commercial spaces to provide carbon monoxide (CO) detection by June 2015.

The law is named after Steven Nelson, a manager of Legal Sea Foods on Long Island, who passed away in 2014 due to a carbon monoxide leak caused by a faulty water heater pipe.  In addition, approximately thirty other people became sick as the colorless, odorless gas spread from inside the basement of the restaurant complex, which was attached to a shopping mall.

Originally, one and two family homes, condo, co-ops and each unit of an apartment building were required to provide carbon monoxide detection, while restaurants and other commercial buildings were excluded.

What is carbon monoxide and what are the dangers?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that can be a result of incomplete combustion.  It is considered a ‘silent killer’ because there is no way for a person to detect its presence or levels by seeing, tasting or smelling it. It is regulated under OSHA in workplaces in concentrations of greater than 50 parts per million.  The human body’s respiratory system is designed to infuse blood with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. When carbon monoxide is present, it attaches to hemoglobin during inhalation instead of oxygen.  In high enough concentrations, this causes asphyxiation due to the lower levels of oxygen in the blood stream to fatal levels. The body does not have a mechanism to actively remove carbon monoxide like it does for carbon dioxide. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), on average over 400 people die annually nationwide due to non-fire, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
•  Headache
•  Nausea
•  Vomiting
•  Dizziness
•  Sleepiness
•  Trouble breathing
•  Loss of consciousness

Required Building- What to do?

According to the new regulations, the term carbon monoxide source is defined as:

“Any appliance, equipment, device or system that may emit carbon monoxide (including, but not limited to, fuel fired furnaces; fuel fired boilers; space heaters with pilot lights or open flames; kerosene heaters; wood stoves; fireplaces; and stoves, ovens, dryers, water heaters and refrigerators that use gas or liquid fuel, garages, and other motor vehicle related occupancies).”

In most cases, carbon monoxide detection must be installed by a licensed security/fire protection professional by hardwiring it into the building power and alarm systems. The detection systems must meet the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 720, NFPA 72 standards and UL’s standard 2024.

When it comes to all types of risk mitigation, being proactive rather than reactive can be a matter of life or death. With the proper detection, tragedies such as last year’s leak at Legal Sea Foods can be prevented. An announcement from the restaurant’s CEO after the incident stated “stronger safety measures must be put in place, and I pledge to be at the forefront of this effort.” This new law makes these safety measures not only a priority, but a compliance requirement. It is highly recommended to check with your local jurisdiction/fire marshal to ensure what requirements are needed for your particular establishment. It is also critical to have an attorney review the landlord/tenant lease to see who is ultimately responsible for the installation of these systems.

Robert Fiorito serves as Vice President, HUB International Northeast, where he specializes in providing insurance brokerage services to the restaurant industry. As a 20-year veteran and former restaurateur himself, Bob has worked with a wide array of restaurant & food service businesses, ranging from fast-food chains to upscale, “white tablecloth” dining establishments.

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