By Grainger Editorial Staff 1/14/21
On construction sites, portable generators are often used to power work lights and tools such as table saws, compressors and belt sanders. Portable generators are generally easy to operate, but it's important to follow some simple safety practices that can help prevent a few common hazards associated with them: carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.
Carbon monoxide can be produced anywhere that combustion is taking place, such as in a portable generator. If the generator engine is not operating correctly, higher levels of carbon monoxide can be produced. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can quickly cause illness and death. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, dizziness and tiredness. These symptoms can be mistaken for cold, flu or other illness. If you or anyone in the area where a portable generator is running begin to feel sick or have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area immediately and seek medical attention.
Follow these steps when using a portable generator to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
You can use a portable generator to supply power to a trailer, office or other structure—but only when there's a properly installed, code-compliant transfer switch or interlock device connecting to the structure's electrical panel. Connecting a generator to the structure's electrical system in any other way can be illegal and dangerous to you and to anyone working on nearby utility lines.
Follow these steps when using a generator to help prevent electric shocks:
Also, to avoid damaging the generator and the appliances or other devices drawing power from it, make sure the generator is appropriately sized for the load you expect it to handle.
Portable generators get hot when they're running, and they need time to cool down. Take these precautions to help prevent fires when using portable generators:
For more information, see the OSHA portable generators fact sheet.
Q: How do you use a portable generator with an extension cord?
A: Using an extension cord with a portable generator is fairly straightforward. Different generators have different outlet configurations, and you'll need a cord with the correct plug for your generator. At the other end, you'll have outlets that can connect with the devices that you want to run, or with a power inlet attached to a generator transfer switch, if you have one installed. If you plan to use your generator for backup power during an emergency, the extension cord needs to be long enough to allow the generator to be at least 20 feet from the house. The cord should have an amperage rating that can accommodate the amperage rating of the generator's outlet (typically 30 amps, but check with the manual or manufacturer of your unit). The amperage rating of the cord should also be sufficient for the devices you plan to power with it. Special generator extension cords are available.
Q: Is 15 feet far enough away from the house to run a portable generator?
A: No. Research has shown that under certain conditions, deadly carbon monoxide can build up in a house from a portable generator that's 15 feet away. The CDC recommends that generators be placed 20 feet from the house.
Q: What should I do if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off?
A: Do not look for the source of the gas. If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, you should go outside right away and call 911 according to the CDC. You should also seek medical attention if you are dizzy, light-headed or nauseated and suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.