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Important Tips to Ensure Safety When Using Generators

Release date: 
March 18, 2006
Release Number: 
1603-406

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Federal and state disaster officials remind applicants to practice safety measures when using portable generators. Generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power is needed but can also be extremely hazardous and even life threatening. The primary hazards when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution and fire.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers the following cautions on the use of gas-powered generators and other tools:

Shock and Electrocution

  • Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of structure (home, office, trailer, etc.) unless a qualified electrician has properly installed the generator with a transfer switch.
  • Always plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer's supplied cords or extension cords that are grounded (3-pronged). Inspect the cord to make sure they are fully intact and not damaged. Never use frayed or damaged extension cords.
  • Keep a generator dry; do not use it in the rain or in wet conditions. If needed, protect a generator with a canopy.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces such as garages, crawl spaces, and basements.
  • Make sure a generator has three to four feet of clear space on all sides and above it to ensure adequate ventilation.
  • Be cautious when using a generator outdoors to ensure it is not placed 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 to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention. Do no re-enter the area until it is determined to be safe by trained and properly equipped personnel.

Fire Hazards

  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
  • Wear hearing protection if this is not possible.

FEMA prepares the nation for all hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, trains first responders, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. 

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 12:41