NORMAN — A good generator can come in handy, especially in a power outage, but it also can be hazardous to your health if used improperly.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 170 people annually die as a result of misusing portable generators. However, this is an easily reversible trend if some basic safety guidelines are followed.
The main hazards from portable generators are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electric shock and fire. Most incidents reported to the CPSC involve CO poisoning from using the machinery in an enclosed or partially enclosed area. CO is an odorless, colorless, and potentially deadly gas.
Generators should only be used outdoors and well away from any air intakes to your home. In confined spaces like houses, garages or sheds, fumes can overwhelm you within minutes, even with fans or open doors and windows.
There also is a risk of shock or electrocution if a generator is used incorrectly, especially when it is wet. If you have a generator in wet conditions, protect it from moisture to cut your risk of shock or electrocution. For instance, you could use an open-sided canopy like structure on a dry surface that blocks water from pooling underneath it.
Appliances should be connected to the generator with only heavy-duty cords designed for outdoor use. Check the wattage rating on each cord to be sure it is more than the combined wattage of all equipment connected to it — include starting wattages. Also, do not string multiple cords together past 50 feet.
Home owners should avoid attempting to power home wiring by plugging a generator into a wall outlet. This dangerous practice, also known as back feeding, increases the risk of electrocution to utility workers and neighbors using the same transformer.
Meanwhile, to avoid fire hazards, it is a good idea to store the fuel for the generator outside the house and away from fuel-burning appliances such as natural gas water heaters. Use non-glass safety containers and be sure to label them clearly. Because gasoline spilled on a hot engine could ignite, generators should be turned off and allowed to cool before refueling.
For more information, visit the CPSC website at www.cpsc.gov.