Safety When Using Portable Generators

What can I say, generators are lifesavers. Generators can also cause a lot of harm including loss of lives. It is, therefore, important to learn how to safely use the generator before purchasing or starting to operate one. To ensure safety, there a number of aspects to be considered.In this article, we will learn how to safely handle each aspect to ensure safety and durability of your portable generator.

Carbon Monoxide

Most of the portable generator-related deaths are caused by carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is normally part of the generator’s exhaust. CO is odourless and invisible meaning you cannot tell when you inhale it.. However, CO kills in a matter of minutes. In order to avoid death by carbon monoxide, please pay attention to the following details.

  • Keep your generator at least 20 feet away from your home
  • Never operate your portable generator in your home, garage or any partially enclosed areas
  • Operate the generator away from doors,windows and vents
  • Direct the generator’s exhaust away from windows, doors and vents since they can suck in the deadly gas
  • Ensure there is proper ventilation where the generators has been or is to be setup
  • Maintain enough air flow around the generator
  • Install working carbon monoxide detectors/alarm in your home

In case carbon monoxide leaks in your home and you start feeling dizzy, weak and sick move to a place with fresh air immediately!


A generator is an internal combustion engine that functions using fuel. Generators need fuel to provide the necessary mechanical energy required to produce electricity. Fuel is flammable hence using a portable generator without care can result to a number of fire hazards. Here are tips to prevent fire hazards.

  • Keep an approved and fully charged fire extinguisher near the unit.
  • Do not refuel the generator while it is running,fuel vapor can ignite and cause an explosion.
  • Give the engine 5 minutes to cool before you refuel the generator.
  • Store the generator when the fuel tank is empty.
  • Never operate the generator near flammable material.
  • Store the fuel in a gasoline approved container and keep it away from the portable generator.
  • Do not smoke near the ignition source.
  • Only use recommended fuel for the portable generator as indicated in the manual.
  • Avoid spilling fuel on the unit’s hot components.

Electrical Cord Considerations

Portable generators have various electrical outlets which are designed to plug your device directly into the generator. However, it is often advisable to use long extensions cords for versatility and to curb the carbon monoxide menace.

  • Use heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord suitable for the voltage and amps you may need.
  • Use an extension cord that exceeds the expected load, to prevent excessive heat build up.
  • The cord should be at least three-pronged for proper grounding with no cuts, splits or holes in the external insulation covering.
  • It is dangerous and illegal to use or fabricate a male to male power cord.
  • Keep the extension cords out-of-the-way but in plain sight to allow for visual time to time inspection.

In order to avoid being electrocuted:

  • Never connect to an electrical system if the generator and transfer switch have not been properly installed and the electrical output verified by a qualified electrician.
  • Never exposure the generator to moisture, snow or rain and never run it using wet hands.
  • Keep the portable generator dry.


Portable generator manuals indicate that every user should ground his/her generator through their grounding feature prior to operating the unit in order to prevent electrocution. They recommend that at least 12 gauge AWG wire should be attached from the terminal to a 6 foot grounding rod inserted into the earth. However, as a safety precaution for owners who would ignore this instruction, the manufacturers build in safety by bonding the neutral to the frame.

Grounding Requirements for Portable and Vehicle-mounted Generators

Under the following conditions, OSHA directs that;

  • A portable generator’s frame should not be grounded but can serve as the ground.
  • The unit’s supplies only the equipment mounted on it and/or the cord and the equipment connected through the receptacles mounted on the unit.
  • The equipment’s metal parts that do not carry current such as the internal congestion engine,the fuel tank and the unit’s housing are to be bonded to the unit’s frame and the equipment grounding conductor terminals are to be bonded to the generator frame as well.

In this case, the generator’s frame replaces the grounding electrode. If the conditions do not exist, a grounding rode eg. A ground rod will be required.If the generator is providing power to a structure such as a home or an office by connection through a transfer switch, it must be connected to a grounding electrode system. The transfer switch must be approved and installed correctly by a qualified electrician.

Connecting to Your Home’s Power Supply

Grounding requirements for generators connected via transfer switches are covered by Article 250 of the National Electrical Code (NEC).

generator transfer switch

When your portable generator is to be hooked into your home’s wiring system, a transfer switch is required. The switch should be properly installed as a separate derived system in accordance with the NEC NFPA 70 Code. The generator is then connected to the installed transfer switch which switches all conductors apart from the equipment grounding conductor. One should therefore hire a qualified electrician. The generator frame should be connected to an approved grounding electrode.

A transfer switch that has been properly installed prevents the generator from feeding power back into the lines. This protects the generator and home wiring from damage during power restoration. In order to prevent the generator from overloading one must operate it at or below the generators running watts. Back feeding power into your electrical system is allowed since it causes a potential risk to utility workers and yourself.

General Precautions

Here is a summary of the precautions you should observe if you own a portable generator.

  • Store your generator when the tank is empty.
  • Do not run the generator in your home or garage.
  • Direct the generator exhaust away from windows, doors and vents.
  • Store fuel in approved gasoline containers.
  • Keep the generator dry.
  • Use appropriate extension cords.
  • Do not touch the generator without putting on protective gear.
  • Do not refuel the generator while it is still running.
  • Avoid touching the extension cords with bare hands.

Portable generator related deaths have become rampant. To avoid being a victim, use your generator safely. Exercise caution. BE SAFE.

Leave a Comment