Portable Generator Hazards
Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power
is needed. If used incorrectly, gasoline, kerosene, and other
gas-powered generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, electric
shocks, fires, and burns. Generator accidents can be fatal!
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning
Every year, people die in accidents related to
portable generator use. For example, a young camper was killed by CO from
a portable generator's exhaust tube adjacent to the victim's campsite.
Most deaths involve CO poisoning from portable generators used indoors or
in partially-enclosed spaces. The Consumer Product Safety Commission
reports that between 1999 and 2004 portable generators caused 172 CO
poisoning deaths in the U.S.
produce high levels of CO in their exhaust. Carbon monoxide around a
generator and its exhaust tube can build up within minutes, even outdoors.
Carbon monoxide can linger for hours, even after the generator is shut
You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide. So even if you do not smell
exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO.
You can help protect yourself by installing CO alarms (battery-operated
or plug-in with battery back-up) in your home, RV, cabin of your boat or
other area where carbon monoxide may be present. Carbon monoxide detectors
should be certified to the latest UL safety standards. Test your CO
detector monthly. Replace the batteries in the spring and in the fall when
clocks are changed for daylight savings time.
start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, GET TO
FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY! DO NOT DELAY! The carbon monoxide from
generators is deadly and can quickly overcome you and others in the area.
Generators pose a risk of shock and
electrocution, especially if they are operated in wet conditions. If you
must use a generator when it is wet outside, operate the generator under
an open, canopy-like structure on a dry surface where water cannot reach
it or puddle or drain under it. Do this without operating the generator
indoors or near openings to any building, in order to help avoid the CO
hazard. Dry your hands, if wet, before touching the generator.
Use only heavy-duty extension cords that are specifically designed for
outdoor use when connecting appliances to a portable generator. Make sure
the wattage rating for each cord exceeds the total wattage of all
appliances connected to it. Use extension cords that are long enough to
allow the generator to be placed outdoors and far away from windows,
doors, and vents to the home or to other structures (tents, other RVs,
etc.). Check that the entire length of each cord is free of cuts or tears
and that the plug has all three prongs. Protect the cord from getting
pinched or crushed if it passes through a window or doorway.
NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a
wall outlet. This is sometimes called "backfeeding." Backfeeding
is extremely dangerous! It presents an electrocution risk to utility
workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also
bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
Generators and the fuel you use to run them can
cause fire hazards. Never store fuel for your generator in the home.
Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored
away from living areas, and only in properly labeled, non-glass safety
containers. Do not store fuel near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a
furnace or water heater. Before refueling the generator, turn it off and
let it cool down. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
With a little knowledge and adherence to a few
basic precautions, these types of accidents can be prevented. Follow the
safety tips below to protect yourself and your family:
- Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using your
CO Poisoning Hazards
NEVER use a generator inside of a home,
garage, crawlspace, shed, or other enclosed area. Locate the unit
outdoors and far from doors, windows, and vents.
- Always run your generator in a well-ventilated area, and only if you
can vent its exhaust safely. Make sure the exhaust hose is placed far
from other campers, tents, boats, cabins, etc.
- Install CO alarms in your home, RV, boat or other area where CO may
- Keep the generator dry.
- Dry your hands, if wet, before touching the generator.
- Use the right extension cord.
- Check your equipment and cords before use. Double check where the
exhaust is facing, where the generator is located, and the condition
of the electrical cords.
- NEVER plug the generator into a wall outlet. "Backfeeding"
is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk.
For more information
DHS Fact Sheet on Carbon
DHS Fact Sheet on Health
Tips for Your Home
DHS Poster: Warning!
Use Portable Generators Correctly (PDF, 87 KB)
If you have additional questions, please call the Bureau of
Environmental and Occupational Health at (608) 266-1120.
by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of
Public Health, with funds from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry, US Department of Health and Human Services.
adapted from a Consumer Products Safety Commission fact sheet on carbon
monoxide and generator use.
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August 30, 2012