If you’re in the market for a portable generator, you’re probably wondering: can a portable generator kill you? There’s a huge difference between natural disasters and carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators. While natural disasters may seem fatal, portable generators kill more people from carbon monoxide poisoning than they do from fires, windstorms, and other sources of energy. One study found that carbon monoxide poisoning killed more people than Hurricane Irma did. According to the CPSC, the portable generators that killed the most people in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma contributed to sixteen of the 16 deaths, while the storm itself contributed to eleven.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Several recent reports indicate that CO poisoning from a portable generator is one of the most common causes of deaths in the United States. In one case, a family of eight was killed by a gasoline-powered generator hooked up to heaters. Another case involved a wedding reception in Madison, Wisconsin, which was evacuated due to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. This story may be a cause for concern, especially for those who do not have a lot of knowledge about the dangers of carbon monoxide.
Most generators do not come equipped with a carbon monoxide sensor or automatic shut-off switch. They also are not designed to produce low levels of CO, which can make them deadly. For this reason, it is crucial to position the generators as far away from people as possible. If you must use a generator, make sure to position it far enough from the home. Using a generator in an enclosed space, especially a carport, can increase the risk of exposure to CO.
CPSC tracking 1,300 deaths from portable generators
The CPSC has been tracking over 1,300 deaths caused by portable generators. While the government identified the problem more than two decades ago, the industry has been resistant to regulations that would have reduced the amount of CO produced by these devices. A statutory process has also delayed enforcement of any safety upgrades. As a result, deaths have continued to occur despite the efforts of regulators. In a recent report, the CPSC released a list of safety features and improvements that it believes would significantly reduce fatalities caused by generators.
Several factors have contributed to the increasing number of deaths related to portable generators. The highest rates occurred in African Americans, who make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population. CO poisoning from generators was most common in men. Furthermore, 74 percent of the fatalities involved generators operating in living areas. Therefore, it’s important to check the safety of portable generators and learn the risks associated with them.
Voluntary safety standards
The CPSC, the federal agency responsible for protecting consumers, has just announced that it will recommend that manufacturers install mandatory safety standards for portable generators. The agency believes that the lack of safety measures on these units is a contributing factor to the deaths of many people due to carbon monoxide poisoning. But in order to protect consumers from harm, manufacturers need to make the changes, and UL and CPSC are evaluating the proposed standards.
Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1972, which is responsible for overseeing the safety of almost every product on the market. The CPSC has an annual budget of $135 million and 540 employees, which is small compared to the multi-billion-dollar industries it regulates. The commission was hamstrung by restrictions under the Reagan administration forty years ago. Anti-regulation Republicans nearly sunk it in 1981, but it survived. The CPSC is now considering imposing mandatory safety standards for portable generators, which is a good idea.
Proper grounding before using a portable heater or generator is critical to safety. The National Electrical Code requires generators to be grounded, but the exact method can differ from one location to another. In the United States, generators are required to be grounded using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). GFCI’s detect electrical power short circuits and open a switch to stop the flow of electricity, minimizing injury.
Carbon monoxide, another danger of a portable generator, can accumulate in enclosed spaces and linger for hours after the generator is turned off. This gas is colorless and odorless, and can kill you before you even realize it. The effects of exposure to CO depend on age, health, and the concentration of the gas. Nonetheless, if you don’t know how to properly ground a portable generator, you run the risk of becoming sick.
Using a generator indoors
The latest tragedy involving a portable generator in the Chicago area involves a woman who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her home. On a sunny, mid-80s day, she was inside her basement. Her ex-wife, who had two young children, was also inside the home. The carbon monoxide levels inside her home had climbed up to two hundred parts per million, which is dangerously high, but not high enough to trigger the automatic shutoff switch. Another victim was a man who was trapped in his basement when his portable generator died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The CPSC and the American Society for Consumer Safety (ASCP) are working to establish voluntary standards for portable generators, and some attorneys say it is alarming that so many people have died from this dangerous product.
The first rule is to keep the generator outdoors, at least 20 feet away from your home. It should also be placed outside of tents or enclosed structures. Even if you keep the generator outside, don’t forget to put up a carbon monoxide alarm and call 911 immediately. The problem is much more widespread than user error. Generator manufacturers have tried to lower their carbon monoxide emissions. But they are not perfect, and they don’t make it easy for consumers to follow them.