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Safety tips for using a portable generator

When power lines are down, residents can restore energy to their homes or other structures by using another power source such as a portable generator. In order to operate these machines safely, it’s important that you consider all of the items in this checklist. 

 

How to safely set up a portable generator

  1. If it is necessary to use a portable generator, manufacturer recommendations and specifications must be strictly followed

  2. Contact a qualified electrician. If there are any questions regarding the operation or installation of the portable generator, a qualified electrician should be immediately contacted to assist in installation and start-up activities. 

  3. Always position the generator outside of the structure

  4. Turn off the power to the main breaker or fuse if water is present near electrical circuits or equipment. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.

 

A children's room with wood floors, a small chair and a chalk board with "Keep your family safe. Nearly 70 percent of deaths caused by portable generators occur at home" written in dark blue.

 

The safety risks of electrical “back feed”

When using gasoline- and diesel-powered portable generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the "off" position prior to starting the generator. This will prevent power lines from being inadvertently energized by back feed electrical energy from the generators, and help protect utility line workers or other repair workers or people in neighboring buildings from possible electrocution.

If the generator is plugged into a household circuit without turning the main breaker to the “off” position or removing the main fuse, the electrical current could reverse, go back through the circuit to the outside power grid, and energize power lines or electrical systems in other buildings to at or near their original voltage without the knowledge of utility or other workers.

The problem of back feed in electrical energy is a potential risk for electrical energy workers. Electrocutions are the fifth leading cause of all reported occupational deaths. Following the safety guidelines below can reduce this risk.

 

Carbon monoxide poisoning and portable generators

Generator use is also a major cause of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, which can be fatal. Because gas-powered generators burn fuel, similarly to your car, it produces toxic exhaust fumes that contain large quantities of carbon monoxide. Generators should only be used in well ventilated areas.


 

Find more useful information about how to stay safe around electricity from our other safety pages:

Overhead power line safety

Power lines and cars

Indoor electrical safety

Stay safe during an outage

 

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