Carbon Monoxide Detectors in the News

Month after month, deaths and brain damage occur because hotels don’t put carbon monoxide detectors in all hotel rooms.

By Rebecca Martin

A headline in The Washington Post says it all: Sandals will add carbon monoxide detectors after 3 deaths in Bahamas, “after” being the operative word. Although information regarding the cause of the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of three guests at the Sandals Resort in the Bahamas has yet to be released, Sandals released a statement which said “Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our guests and team members is and will always be paramount,” according to The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2022/05/26/sandals-resort-deaths-carbon-monoxide/

carbon monoxide detectors

Hotels must put carbon monoxide detectors in every guest room, regardless of whether there is a furnace or water heater in each room. Pool heater and boiler exhaust can wind up in any room in the building in concentrations high enough to kill. Hotel rooms must have detectors because people sleep in those rooms.

We often question why measures to provide for safety from carbon monoxide poisoning often come after deaths have occurred? The Washington Post article also says that Sandals has brought in environmental experts to do a comprehensive review of all systems at the resort. But looking at some of the informed recommendations of those in the hospitality safety industry, it is clear that such measures should have been part of the standard operations of any resort.

According to an article on the Sensorcon website https://sensorcon-sensing-products-by-molex.myshopify.com/pages/causes-of-carbon-monoxide-co-hazards-in-hotels-motels-and-resorts

“The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning to guests and employees of hotels and motels is a continuing issue for the hospitality industry. One study examined cases between 2005 and 2018 that resulted in 905 guests suffering from CO poisoning — and 22 fatalities.”

These incidents occurred in the United States and statistics for international facilities are not included in these findings. Most of these incidents were tied to malfunctioning boilers, furnaces and other heating equipment such pool heaters and hot water heaters.

The steps to mitigate such occurrences begin with proper installation and inspection of carbon monoxide alarms and continue with routine maintenance and inspection according to manufacturers’ specifications. The recommendations continue to stress:

“A great way to mitigate risk and keep your hotel guests and employees safe from CO exposure is to install CO detectors in guest rooms, utility equipment spaces, and common areas.” https://sensorcon-sensing-products-by-molex.myshopify.com/pages/causes-of-carbon-monoxide-co-hazards-in-hotels-motels-and-resorts

In addition to these safety measures, routine inspections of these areas with a portable carbon monoxide alarms should be part of safety guidelines for the hospitality industry. Sensorcon is one company offering portable and reliable meters for just such a purpose.

With these recommendations by companies catering to safety concerns within the hospitality industry, why then would the deaths of guests need to be the impetus to address these safety issues?

Saving One Life Would Justify the Cost

One reason is that in the hospitality industry itself, the general feeling is that these events are not significant enough in frequency, even though the incidents which result in fatalities are deemed severe. In other words, the argument is that the number of incidents is acceptable when weighed against cost. The fact that a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is present in any place where fuel-burning devices are present has not been enough to motivate the hospitality industry to voluntarily take measures to avoid tragedies. As a result, only 14 states currently have laws requiring the use of carbon monoxide detectors in lodging facilities. And though tourist dollars are essential at many international resorts, little has been done to insure that a carbon monoxide incident might be the cause of the tragic ending to a vacation.

This oversight appears to have led to the deaths of three vacationers in the Bahamas with one survivor still being treated in the United States for severe swelling and paralysis. https://uinterview.com/news/sandals-says-tourists-deaths-at-bahamas-resort-were-due-to-carbon-monoxide/

Hotels Must Do a Better Job of Recognizing the Signs of Poisoning

Another facet of carbon monoxide poisoning which seems to be too common in these incidents is the lack of familiarity of the staff when dealing with guest complaints of what would seem on the surface to be classic symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. We saw this in the Boone County case in North Carolina when a children’s party had complained of symptoms related to the same malfunctioning pool heater which claimed three lives in two separate incidents. Much like the incident in the Bahamas, symptoms were arbitrarily attributed to food poisoning or other factors. In the case of the Sandals’ guests, even a trip to the emergency room did not look at carbon monoxide as a probable culprit. If there is a pool heater present, carbon monoxide poisoning has to be the top line on the differential diagnosis in any epidemiological event where multiple people are coming down with the same illness, simultaneously.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms Must be Any Place There is a Pool Heater.

Pool heater without carbon monoxide detectors = high risk of death and brain damage in those who survive.

“The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you.” https://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

In the Boone County case this unfamiliarity with carbon monoxide symptoms even led to initial findings that one couple had perished of natural causes and the cause of the carbon monoxide poisoning (a malfunctioning pool heater) continuing unresolved which eventually led to a third death.

When considering the implications of such oversights, one must always keep in mind the level of tragedy in these cases because underneath the statistical incidence of carbon monoxide fatalities is always the fact that these are deaths which could have been prevented.  Furthermore, for everyone who dies in such an incident, 20 will survive with brain damage. For more on brain damage from carbon monoxide, click here.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms Prevent Death and Disability

The educational component boils down to one fact; regardless of whatever series of events led to the presence of carbon monoxide at lethal levels, in every case the proper placement of carbon monoxide detectors would have prevented these tragedies.

According to hotelmanagement.net a hospitality industry guide for current and prospective hotel owners:

“Carbon monoxide and dioxide alarms are a must. These alarms can signify any fault and help you avoid any catastrophes. They should give an audible alarm when levels are dangerous and should be able to automatically shut off your gas system.”

This recommendation comes as part of a six-point guide to safety within the hospitality industry. It goes further and recommends that hotel staff has training in spotting obvious faults in any gas appliances such as damaged pipework and connections in addition to the manufacturer recommended inspections and maintenance.

Searching across the web, one can find numerous guidelines for those operating in the hospitality industry. In every case, proper installation, maintenance and inspection is the standard and  carbon monoxide detectors are considered essential equipment. The exception to this rule is in websites promoting methods for increasing profitability within the hospitality industry, in which case, superficial improvements such as room decor and better broadband often take precedence over safety issues surrounding the fuel-burning engines of the establishment. Can one surmise then, that there are two separate focuses operating within the industry? One being aimed at filling rooms and one being aimed at providing for the safety of ALL guests?

Authorities in the Sandals case have assured the public that “no foul play” was involved in the deaths of three guests. This is tantamount to stating “it was an accident”. But is it? I have written previously about the moral obligations within the hospitality industry which carry some universal truths including a commitment to the safety of guests who entrust themselves to lodging during one of the most vulnerable times; when one is sleeping.  I have a hard time weighing the legislative situation which does not always address the need for carbon monoxide detectors against the moral obligation to provide for the safety of all entrusted into one’s care. And is it enough to provide that protection only after deaths have occurred?

In the end, we can hope that these carbon monoxide incidents receive the scrutiny they deserve and that the hospitality industry, in general, addresses the issue of carbon monoxide seriously and with great interest in prevention. No vacation should end in a tragedy which could be easily prevented.

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