When the power goes out, generators come on—but usage comes with serious risks if operated incorrectly, according to fire safety experts at the West Virginia University Extension Service.

Among those risks are carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution and fire, according to Mark Fullen, Program Leader and Associate Professor of the WVU Safety and Health Extension.

“Generators can be a convenient, alternative source of power,” said Fullen. “But there are a number of safety precautions residents must be aware of before operating a generator for their home or facility.”

A well-known side effect of generator misuse is carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 150 people in the United States die each year from accidental, non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning.

To avoid carbon monoxide buildup, Fullen suggests residents keep generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from doors and windows to prevent exhaust from entering the home.

The colorless, odorless characteristics of carbon monoxide make it an especially dangerous hazard of operating a generator. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, dizziness, weakness, muscle aches, vomiting and sleepiness.

“There’s a reason carbon monoxide is known as a ‘silent killer’,” said Fullen. “Fatalities often occur because people don’t realize they’ve been affected by high levels of carbon monoxide until it’s too late.”

Fullen stresses the importance for all homes—especially those using generators—to have working carbon monoxide detectors and test them monthly. Those operating generators should install carbon monoxide alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on each level of a home, in accordance with Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.

“Having carbon monoxide detectors located near bedrooms can help awaken sleeping individuals,” said Fullen. “This is vital in helping to alert residents to exit the home immediately—a decision that could save lives.”

Additionally, Fullen recommends keeping generators dry to avoid electrocution and fire-related issues.

“Don’t use a generator in the rain unless you’ve taken measures to keep it completely dry,” said Fullen. “To avoid the generator getting wet, you can operate it on a dry surface under a canopy-like structure outdoors.”

According to WVU Extension Safety and Health faculty, before you buy a small, portable generator, ensure that it meets your power consumptions needs and matches your specific applications. If a larger generator is required, consult a licensed, bonded electrician for installation.

For more information on generator safety and related issues, contact Mark Fullen at m.fullen@mail.wvu.edu.

The WVU Extension Service is a primary outreach division of West Virginia University. With offices in each of the state’s 55 counties, Extension faculty and staff develop and deliver programs in leadership, rural and community-based economic development, youth development, workforce development and health education.

To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit www.ext.wvu.edu, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.



CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service
304.293.4221, Cassie.Thomas@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.