How to Safely Use Portable Generators

March 6, 2019


Portable electric generator running in the cold winter.

Even though spring is around the corner, March is the snowiest month of the year for many locations in the US. A bad snowstorm can often lead to loss of power that could lead to rise in the use of portable generators. While useful for temporarily restoring power, and helpful in cleanup and recovery efforts, portable generators can be dangerous. Here are some tips provided by OSHA to ensure the safety of your workers.

 

Portable generators can pose the following threats:

 

  • Shocks and electrocution from improper use of power or accidentally energizing other electrical systems.
  • Carbon monoxide from a generator’s exhaust.
  • Fires from improperly refueling a generator or inappropriately storing the fuel for a generator.
  • Noise and vibration hazards.

 

Shock and Electrocution

Any piece of equipment that generates electricity will present some danger in the form of electrocution. But generators have additional hazards because users often bypass the safety devices (such as circuit breakers) that are built into typical electrical systems. OSHA offers the following precautions to reduce shock and electrocution hazards:

 

  • Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a structure—home, office or trailer–unless a qualified electrician has properly installed the generator with a transfer switch. Attaching a generator directly to a building electrical system without a properly installed transfer switch can energize wiring systems for great distances. This creates a risk of electrocution for utility workers and others in the area.
  • Always plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer’s supplied cords or extension cords that are grounded (3-pronged). Inspect the cords to make sure they are fully intact and not damaged, cut or abraded. Never use frayed or damaged extension cords. Ensure the cords are appropriately rated in watts or amps for the intended use. Do not use underrated cords—replace them with appropriately rated cords that use heavier gauge wires. Do not overload a generator; this can lead to overheating which can create a fire hazard.
  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), especially where electrical equipment is used in or around wet or damp locations. GFCIs shut off power when an electrical current is detected outside normal paths. GFCIs and extension cords with built-in GFCI protection can be purchased at hardware stores, do-it-yourself centers, and other locations that sell electrical equipment. Regardless of GFCI use, electrical equipment used in wet and damp locations must be listed and approved for those conditions.
  • Make sure a generator is properly grounded and the grounding connections are tight. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for proper grounding methods.
  • Keep a generator dry; do not use it in the rain or wet conditions. If needed, protect a generator with a canopy. Never manipulate a generator’s electrical components if you are wet or standing in water.
  • Do not use electrical equipment that has been submerged in water. Equipment must be thoroughly dried out and properly evaluated before using. Power off and do not use any electrical equipment that has strange odors or begins smoking.

 

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas that is produced by all kinds of equipment, including portable generators. Many people have died from CO poisoning because their generator was not adequately ventilated. OSHA recommends the following to avoid CO poisoning:

 

  • Never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces such as garages, crawl spaces, and basements. NOTE: Simply opening windows and doors may NOT be enough to prevent CO build-up when a generator is located in an enclosed space.
  • Make sure a generator has three to four feet of clear space on all sides and above it to ensure adequate ventilation.
  • Do not use a generator outdoors if its placement near doors, windows, and vents could allow CO to enter and build up in occupied spaces.
  • If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning— dizziness, headaches, nausea, tiredness—get some fresh air immediately and seek medical attention. Do not re-enter the area until it is determined to be safe by trained and properly equipped personnel.

 

Fire Hazards

Not only do generators become hot while running, they remain hot for long periods after they are turned off. Generator fuels (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) can ignite when spilled on hot engine parts. To avoid a fire, take the following precautions:

 

  • Before refueling, shut down the generator and allow it to cool.
  • Gasoline and other generator fuels should be stored and transported in approved containers that are properly designed and marked for their contents, and vented.
  • Keep fuel containers away from flame producing and heat generating devices (such as the generator itself, water heaters, cigarettes, lighters, and matches).
  • Do not smoke around fuel containers. Escaping vapors or vapors from spilled materials can travel long distances to ignition sources.
  • Do not store generator fuels in your home. Store fuels away from living areas.

 

Noise and Vibration Hazards

According to OSHA, the excessive noise created by portable generators can lead to hearing loss.

 

  • Keep portable generators as far away as possible from work areas and gathering spaces.
  • Wear hearing protection if this is not possible.

 

For more help on keeping your facility accident and injury free, contact Vanguard Resources.