Protect yourself and your crew with these simple steps
It is not uncommon to see a portable generator on spray polyurethane jobsites. After all, if the main generator on the rig fails, the entire job waits until an alternate energy source is found—unless a backup portable generator is available. Although they can save the day, they can turn it dark—quickly— if safety rules are not observed, as generators are internal combustion engines and can be dangerous if incorrectly used.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are multiple major causes of injuries and fatalities when using portable generators. The main causes of injury are shocks and electrocution. Also high on the list is carbon monoxide poisoning from generator exhaust. The last major safety risk when working in an unsafe manner with portable generators is fire.
General Safety Tips
It cannot be stressed enough that a portable generator is both an internal combustion engine and an electrical power source, and thus, must be treated with respect as both elements have their own sets of dangers.
Before use, always inspect portable generators for any signs of damage. Be sure and check for fuel lines that may have come loose during transportation and/or handling.
It is important to always keep the generator dry. And, as with all of your equipment, always maintain and operate portable generators in accordance with the manufacturer’s use and safety instructions.
In order to avoid shocks and/or electrocutions, OSHA recommends the following precautions:
Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a structure
(home, office, or trailer) unless the generator has a properly installed transfer switch as this creates a risk of electrocution for utility workers.
When using electrical cords, any electrical cords in use must be heavy-duty, outdoor-rated, and sized for the total electrical load (amps and volts) that you need. It is best to use a cord that exceeds the amount of the electrical load that you need to avoid heat buildup and cord damage. In addition to the risk of shock from a damaged cord, overloaded power cords are potential fire sources.
Always plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer’s supplied cords. Use undamaged heavy-duty extension cords that are grounded (three-pronged). The cords must have no cuts, splits, frays, or holes in the external insulation.
Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. Many people have died from CO poisoning because their generator was not adequately ventilated. Just as you wouldn’t sit in a closed garage with your car running, you must not work in an enclosed space with a portable generator. Simply put, never use a generator indoors — not even if you are working in a relatively open garage.
Always maintain plenty of airflow around generators, but never place a generator outdoors near doors, windows, or vents. The CO can be drawn indoors and your crew can be quickly overcome.
If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning—dizziness, headaches, nausea, tiredness —get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention. Death comes quickly— within minutes —with carbon monoxide poisoning. It is a risk you cannot afford.
Portable generators run on fuel to produce the energy to provide electricity. Unfortunately, fuel is flammable. OSHA cites fires from improperly refueling generators or inappropriately storing fuel as the leading causes of portable generator conflagrations.
Always keep a full, charged fire extinguisher next to the generator.
Before refueling, shut down the generator. Even the vapors from the fuel can spark an explosion. Never refuel—or operate—the generator near a source of ignition. This includes not allowing your crew to smoke next to the generator.
Do not store fuel near the generator—don’t even set the fuel container down next to the generator “for a few minutes” while it is in use. The combination of hot generator and fuel could prove to be deadly.
Always store fuel in storage containers that are designed and approved for fuel storage. Do not re-use containers that held other substances. Only use the grade and type of fuel listed in the generator’s manufacturer’s manual. Just as you never operate the generator itself indoors, never store fuel indoors.
These safety rules are a quick glimpse of the important aspects of portable generator safety. For a deeper dive, visit OSHA’s Website at www.osha.gov. As with all of your equipment, be sure and read the owner’s manual —and convey the safety precautions to your crew during your daily Toolbox Talks. Remember, what may seem like common sense sometimes gets overlooked in the heat of the job, so it does bear repeating. After all, the best jobs are the ones where everyone goes home every night, safe and sound.