Portable Generator - Shock and Electrocution

Portable generators can be life-saving during a power outage.  These electrical generators pose significant hazards if not used properly. The following information outlines the specific hazards of shock and electrocution inherent with the use of generators and also provides helpful information to ensure that workers and others using such equipment remain safe. Source: www.osha.gov.

Shock and Elecrocution

The electricity created by generators has the same hazards as normal utility-supplied electricity. It also has some additional hazards because generator users often bypass the safety devices, such as circuit breakers that are built into electrical systems.  The following precautions are provided to reduce shock and electrocution hazards:

  • Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a structure (home, office, trailer) unless a qualified electrician has properly installed the generator with a transfer switch. Attaching a generator directly to a building electrical system without properly installed transfer switch can energize wiring systems for great distances. This creates a risk of electrocution for utility workers and others in the area.
  • Always plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer’s supplied cords or extension cords that are grounded (3 pronged). Inspect the cords to make sure they are fully intact and not damaged, cut or abraded. Never use frayed or damaged extension cords. Ensure the cords are appropriately rated in watts or amps for the intended use.  Do not use underrated cords---replace them with appropriately rated cords that use heavier gauge wires. Do not overload a generator; this can lead to overheating which can create a fire hazard.
  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), especially where electrical equipment is used in or around wet or damp locations. GFCIs shut off power when an electrical current is detected outside normal paths. GFCIs and extension cords with built-in GFCI protection can be purchased at hardware stores, do-it-yourself centers, and other locations that sell electrical equipment. Regardless of GFCI use, electrical equipment used in wet and damp locations must be listed and approved for those conditions.
  • Make sure a generator is properly grounded and the grounding connections are tight. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for proper grounding methods.Keep a generator dry; do not use it in the rain or wet conditions. If needed, protect a generator with a canopy. Never manipulate a generator’s electric components if you are wet or standing in water.
  • Do not use electrical equipment that has been submerged in water. Equipment must be thoroughly dried out and properly evaluated before using.  Power off and do not use any electrical equipment that has strange odors or begins smoking.

Source: www.osha.gov


Presenter Tips

  • Pre-read the Tool Box Talk. Your comfort level and confidence will be higher if you know your topic.
  • Discuss related tasks, work areas or events that make the Tool Box Talk relevant to your jobsite.
  • Involve the workers by asking questions and input that drives discussion. Funding and support for this project has been provided by the State of Washington, Department of Labor & Industries.

Questions for Discussion

  • Why is it important to keep a generator away from water?
  • When do you need a transfer switch on a generator?