- Shocks and electrocution from improper use or accidentally energizing other electrical systems.
- Carbon monoxide and other toxic gases 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
The following precautions are provided to reduce shock and electrocution hazards:
- Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a home unless an electrician has installed the generator with a transfer switch. Attaching a generator directly to a buildings electrical system without a transfer switch can allow electricity to flow out of the house and energize wiring systems (power lines) 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). The ground pin must be on the cord. 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 heavy duty construction cords, not residential.
- 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, meaning when they are shocking you. This will limit the amount of shock you receive.
- Keep a generator dry. Set it up on high ground, away from water sources. 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 and Toxic Gasses
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. Many people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because their generator was not adequately ventilated. Other toxic gases in exhaust can cause birth defects in the children of those exposed to the exhaust.
- Never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces or tight spaces, such as trenches. Open windows and doors may not prevent carbon monoxide from building up when a generator is located in an enclosed space. Use it outside and run the cords to the work.
- Make sure a generator has 3 to 4 feet of clear space on all sides and above it to ensure adequate ventilation. Do not store materials near or on the unit.
- If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning—dizziness, headaches, nausea, tiredness—get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention. Do not re-enter the area until it is determined to be safe by air monitoring.
- Generators become hot while running and remain hot for long periods after they are stopped. Generator fuels (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) can ignite when spilled on hot engine parts.
- Before refueling, shut down the generator and allow it to cool. Fuel your equipment before use. Ensure that you do not spill any fuel on yourself or your clothing. It can be ignited by heat or sparks.
- Gasoline and other generator fuels should be stored and transported in approved metal containers that are properly designed and marked for their contents.
- Keep fuel containers away from flame producing and heat (such as the generator itself, running heavy equipment, cigarettes, lighters, and matches). Do not smoke around fuel containers. Escaping vapors or vapors from spilled materials can travel long distances to ignition sources. Ensure that the gas can has a flame arrestor screen in it.
- Do not store generator fuels in your home. Store fuels away from living areas.
Noise and Vibration Hazards
- Generator engines vibrate and create noise. Excessive noise and vibration could cause hearing loss and fatigue that may affect job performance.
- Keep portable generators as far away as possible from work areas and gathering spaces. Doubling the distance between you and the generator will reduce noise by 6 decibels. For example, if a generator 10 feet away is 90 decibels, the same generator 20 feet away is 84 decibels, an acceptable noise level per OSHA.
- Wear hearing protection if noise is excessive. Use the 3 foot rule. If you have to raise your voice to speak with someone 3 feet away, you need ear plugs.
Increasing the distance between you and the generator will provide fresher air and less noise. Place the unit downwind from your work area whenever possible. Always read the hazard warnings and instructions on the equipment prior to use. Follow these procedures at home also, to protect yourself and your family.