During winter ice storms, power to residences is often lost and homeowners revert to using gasoline powered portable electric generators. It is often thought by some homeowners that leaving a generator outside in the severe weather may damage it or affect its performance and therefore resort to bringing the unit inside the shelter, typically, the garage. This is particularly hazardous when the generator is run for an extended period of time as carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic exhaust gas can cause death. In addition, other hazards including electric shock, electrocution, fire and burns potentially can occur.
The CPSC Safety Alert for Portable Generator Hazards indicates the following safety tips to protect against CO poisoning:
- NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.
- Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Locate the unit outdoors and far from doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
- Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01) Test batteries monthly.
Other electrical and fire hazards are noted in the alert. Warren engineers have investigated CO poisoning and other types of incidents involving generators that are being used during catastrophic events like the winter storm blanketing the country as I write.
Jeffery H. Warren, PhD, PE, CSP, is the chief engineer and CEO at Warren specializing in mechanical, machine design, and safety. His deep expertise in machine design and safety analysis makes him a frequent presenter, trainer and expert witness. In addition to investigating more than 2000 claims involving property damage and injuries related to machinery and equipment since 1987, Jeff has an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of North Carolina as well as a Master of Science and a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University — both with machine design emphasis.