Use care with generators

Storm survivors will agree that portable generators are worth their weight in gold, especially when power outages continue for weeks.

But despite their usefulness, generators can be hazardous and even life threatening if certain precautions are not observed. Most deaths and injuries associated with portable generators are from carbon monoxide poisoning; other risks include electric shock and fire, states a GIS press release.

These safety tips can assist residents with the proper, safe use of their generators.

Carbon Monoxide hazards

Generator exhaust can very quickly produce high levels of CO fumes. Humans cannot smell or see CO, so you may be exposed without even realising it. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get fresh air immediately – those symptoms are signs that you have inhaled high CO fumes.

The CO from generators can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and even death. If you experience serious symptoms, seek medical attention right away and inform medical staff that CO poisoning is suspected. If the symptoms occurred while indoors, call the Fire Services to determine if it is safe to re-enter the building.

Safety tips to protect against CO poisoning:

Follow the instructions that come with your generator.

Place the unit outdoors. Keep it away from doors, windows, and vents that could allow fumes to enter buildings. NEVER use a generator indoors or in partially enclosed spaces, including homes, garages, basements, and crawl spaces. Open doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO build-up.

Install battery-operated or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions, and test CO alarm batteries frequently.

Electrical hazard

Follow these tips to protect against shock and electrocution:

Keep the generator dry, and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect it from moisture, operate the generator on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure.

Make sure your hands are dry before you touch a generator.

Plug appliances directly into the generator. Or, use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord with a rating (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check that the cord has no cuts or tears, and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.

Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as ‘back feeding.’ This extremely dangerous practice presents an electrocution risk to utility workers, as well as to neighbours served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some built-in household circuit protection devices. If you must connect the generator through the house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install the appropriate equipment in accordance with local electrical codes. Or, ask your utility company to install an appropriate power transfer switch.

Fire hazards

Follow these fire prevention tips:

Never store fuel for your generator in your house. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labelled, non-glass safety containers.

Do not store fuel containers near fuel-burning appliances, such as natural-gas water heaters. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapours from the fuel can travel along the ground and be ignited by the appliance’s pilot light, or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.

Before refuelling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.

Caring for your generator

Maintain a clean supply of oil in your generator. This will ensure that it will work when next needed, and extend its life.

For more resources and information on hurricane preparedness tips such as these, visit .

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