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    Portable Generator Safety

    By Carol Davis

     

    Whether spring chooses to come in or go out like a lion, accompanying storms frequently knock down power lines and halt electrical service to your home. Portable generators are one convenient answer to pesky power outages, but if you’re not careful, they can be hazardous.

    A portable generator’s primary danger is carbon monoxide poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust; indeed, most generator-related incidents reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission involve such poisoning.

    Carbon monoxide is called a “silent killer” because there are no odors or symptoms that signal a problem. So even if you don’t smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to carbon monoxide.

    That’s why extreme caution and safety safeguards must be used when using a portable generator. Begin by always carefully following the manufacturer’s safety instructions for portable generators.

    These safety tips also can help protect against carbon monoxide poisoning:

    ALWAYS place the generator outdoors. NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas, even if you’re using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation, warns the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.

    Additionally, place generators so that carbon monoxide fumes can’t enter the home through windows, doors, vents, or other openings in the building, says the National Fire Protection Association.

    Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that a generator should be placed no closer than 15 feet from a structure.

    Install carbon monoxide alarms in your home — either battery-operated alarms or plug-in alarms with battery backup. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for correct placement and mounting height so they’re the most effective. Remember to test your batteries monthly to ensure they’re functioning properly.

    Turn off generators and let them cool down before refueling. Never refuel a generator while it is hot, advises the fire protection association.

    Store fuel for the generator in a container that is intended for the purpose and clearly label it as such. Store the containers outside of living areas.

    Be familiar with the signs for carbon monoxide poisoning — nausea, dizziness, headache, confusion, sleepiness, and weakness — and if you or others in your home experience these symptoms, or if your carbon monoxide alarms sound, get to fresh air immediately. Do not delay. The “silent killer” can rapidly have devastating consequences. Don’t go back into the building until trained and properly equipped emergency personnel have determined it to be safe and free of dangerous fumes.

    Portable generators are a useful and valuable tool when electrical service is interrupted. The key is take extreme care in operating them safely.