THE USPE GUIDE TO PRACTICAL GENERATOR SAFETY ISSUES
Due to the "mission critical" importance of electricity to the viability of just about every business, hospital, municipality, government and organization, standby generators have become very prevalent around the world. While on the commercial side, this usually means a large diesel generator, many homeowners prepare for the possibility of extended power outages by purchasing and installing small, gasoline-powered portable electric generators. While this seems like a perfect solution, trying to supply power to your entire house with a portable generator is potentially dangerous to you and to utility company linemen. So follow these safety guidelines when using portable generators in emergencies. Generators can also cause personal injury. For example, if a power company employee is working on an electrical line thinking it is not energized and electrical current created by the generator is in the line, shock or electrocution may occur.
The best way to use these generators is to install them safely and to use only as much power as is absolutely necessary. For example, if you only need to provide electricity to your refrigerator and a few lights during an outage, the simplest and safest way is to run an extension cord of the correct gauge directly from the generator to the appliance.
It is impractical, and potentially dangerous, to try to supply power to the entire house with a portable generator. Unless certain switches have been installed or a certified electrician has installed the generator, the hookup could be dangerous to both you and the utility company employees trying to restore power. The generator itself may even be damaged when power is restored if it has been improperly installed.
Any installation that requires a direct connection to electrical equipment requires a certified electrician. The safety benefits and peace of mind for your family will be well worth the cost.
Transfer Switch Safety Issues
Electrical current from the generator may "back feed" into the home's electrical system and cause damage or fire and ruin equipment if it is not properly installed. It is recommended a qualified electrician install a generator to a home electrical system.
Some transfer switches automatically trip to generator power if there is a power failure while others must be switched manually. A transfer switch works by isolating a few of the electrical circuits in the home from the incoming electrical service. If the generator is running and power is restored, the power company's electricity cannot get to those isolated circuits until the generator is turned off and the transfer switch is reset to the non-backup position.
There are many requirements to meet when considering the safety of your generator. These do not always involve consideration for personal safety but measures to protect the generator itself. If your generator is a permanent installation it is important that a safety feature such as an automatic shutdown device be installed. This will protect from several malfunctions. There are basically three monitored factors that can be considered when installing a shutdown device. One of these monitors the engine temperature and if these values are too high the generator is shutdown automatically. There is another that deals with the oil pressure and if there is a drop in oil pressure the generator is shutdown. There are also over-speed shutdown kits that can be used. It is by far the best choice to install all of these shutdown devices as a safety precaution to protect your equipment. It is also recommended as a safety precaution that regular maintenance is carried out. The most maintenance that is required of a diesel generator is a regular oil change. This can do wonders in increasing the lifetime of your generator. Once properly maintained there will be few issues with your generator up to 30,000 hours or an approximate time period of 3 years. Regular inspections of the generator should also be carried out at every oil change. Ensure that the generator is kept clean so it is easy to observe any leaks. This is important as a safety requirement as even if you installed the oil pressure shutdown device it is possible for significant damage to be done before it is triggered. The diesel generator in particular is very much dependent on proper oil amounts as it has a high pressure on the components. It is of importance that the diesel generator be exposed to the proper amounts of fresh air or ventilation for cooling. Although the machines have a water cooling system built in it is vital that they are well ventilated. This ensures that the machines do not overheat. If storing the generator in a shed ensures that there are large enough ventilation openings. If noise is a concern the installation of a blower is a good safety precaution to protect your equipment. High temperatures are what will eventually kill an alternator and it is vital that this is controlled to extend the life of the generator. In order to extend the life of your diesel generator it is possible to install an hour meter. This will alert you in terms of usage when maintenance is required and avoid improper maintenance practices. In terms of your safety it is important that you are knowledgeable in electrical aspects and take proper precautions. Do not remove guards put in place for your protection unless you have professional assistance. If the machine is overheating be cautious of handling the equipment as serious burns can occur. Do not allow oil spills onto the floor as this is a fire hazard. Noise is another consideration for your safety. Make sure you install your diesel generator away from earshot range of your home and any neighbors. A sound barrier enclosure may be an idea if space is a limitation.
Portable Generator Hazards
Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power is needed, but they also can be hazardous. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire.
Every year, people die in incidents related to portable generator use. Most of the incidents associated with portable generators reported to CPSC involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces.
Carbon Monoxide Hazards - NEVER USE A GENERATOR IN ENCLOSED OR PARTIALLY-ENCLOSED SPACES.
Generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly. When you use a portable generator, remember that you cannot smell or see CO. Even if you can’t smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO.
If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY. DO NOT DELAY. The CO from generators can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death.
If you experience serious symptoms, get medical attention immediately. Inform medical staff that CO poisoning is suspected. If you experienced symptoms while indoors, have someone call the fire department to determine when it is safe to re-enter the building.
Follow these safety tips to protect against CO poisoning:
1. NEVER use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces, and other enclosed or partially-enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO build-up in the home.
2. Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Locate the unit outdoors and away from doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
3. Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. The CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards for CO alarms (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01).
4. Test your CO alarms frequently and replace dead batteries.
Follow these tips to protect against shock and electrocution:
1. Keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect from moisture, operate it on a dry surface under an open, canopy-like structure. Dry your hands if wet before touching the generator.
2. Plug appliances directly into the generator. Or, use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.
3. NEVER try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as “back feeding.” This is an extremely dangerous practice that presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
4. If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install the appropriate equipment in accordance with local electrical codes. Or, check with your utility company to see if it can install an appropriate power transfer switch.
5. For power outages, permanently installed stationary generators are better suited for providing backup power to the home. Even a properly connected portable generator can become overloaded. This may result in overheating or stressing the generator components, possibly leading to a generator failure.
Follow these tips to prevent fires:
1. Never store fuel for your generator in the home. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labeled, non-glass safety containers. Do not store them near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage. If the fuel is spilled or the container is not sealed properly, invisible vapors from the fuel can travel along the ground and can be ignited by the appliance’s pilot light or by arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
2. Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
As one of the nation’s leading authorities on backup power generators, US Power carries a full inventory. Here are a few more tips on generator safety:
People should consider stand-by generators to protect the following:
1. Keep homes powered up, safe and comfortable
2. Computer networks and systems
3. Internet connections
4. Communications systems including telephones
5. Cash register machines
6. Plant operations and potable water systems
7. Refrigeration machines to keep inventory from spoiling
Stand-by generators can provide the following features:
1. Quick start time: 10 seconds or less compared to the 2-minute delay other fuel sources generate.
2. Disaster utility: Stand-by generators provide continuous power during a blackout or outage caused by tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
3. Reliable: Stand-by generators restore power quickly and continuously to small businesses in any industry, as well as homes in every neighborhood.
4. Availability: Unlike most generator suppliers, US POWER has a full stock of inventory ready for immediate shipment to any part of the US and abroad.
What are the basic safety tips for using portable generators?
1. Use the appropriate sized power cords recommended by the manufacturer to carry the electrical load.
2. Never run cords underneath rugs or carpets where heat could build up or a damaged cord could go unnoticed.
3. Never connect generators to another power source such as power lines. The back-feed of electricity can be fatal.
4. To avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, never run a generator in an enclosed space, such as a basement, connected garage or enclosed porch.