Emergency Power Generator Safety
Please don't endanger the Utility Lineman
In the last hour before a hurricane there is always a panic rush
to purchase the last remaining portable gasoline emergency
generator. Thousands of emergency generators are sold over the
counter to well meaning homeowners who are not aware of the
consequences of an improper installation. Too often after the
hurricane you hear of a lineman being killed by an improperly
installed generator back feeding the utility lines.
Improperly installed generators can pose serious dangers to you,
your family and Power line construction crews.
In the aftermath of a disaster there are circumstances that
circumvent conventional safety procedures. The utility companies
rely heavily on independent construction firms to quickly
restore utility lines. Private contractor employees are
sometimes less familiars with the territory and the established
utility company procedures. On top of everything else there is
the stress caused by working long hours in inclement conditions
and the pressure to restore power to thousands of customers some
of whom are in dire need.
As an electrician I am often sought out on the day of the
hurricane for free consultation on the installation of emergency
generators. I say free because no-one ever expects to pay for
professional advise unless it's from a doctor or lawyer. I often
have strangers come to my home at odd hours for advise about
electrical installations or problems. Of course in the Deep
South this kind of hospitality is usually expected and I am
always willing to offer free advise where safety is concerned.
I discourage connecting portable generators directly into the
building's wiring system. But if one insists, I always recommend
the use of a double throw transfer switch to prevent the
generator from back feeding the utility lines. I even recommend
some competent contractors who are qualified and licensed to
make a proper and safe installation. My last words are always a
warning of the criminal charges and the liability for
endangering the life of electrical utility workers. I'm aware
that in most cases my advice is not taken seriously where safety
is concerned. The generator should be properly installed before
an emergency exist rather than the hour just before or after the
If you insist on connecting a generator to the existing wiring
system of your home or business you must use a double throw
transfer switch. The Transfer switch is essential for the
protection of linemen who are working to restore power. You can
be held liable for the loss of life or property damage caused by
back feeding the utility lines. A transfer switch or relay is
also required by municipal and building codes.
Here are some additional safety tips for installing and using
portable emergency generators.
1- Read, understand and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
2- Never operates the generator indoors or in a closed space.
Avoid a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning and ignition of
fumes caused by fuel evaporation.
3- Don't overload the generator. Overloading can cause damage to
the generator as well as creating a fire hazard.
4- To avoid electrical shock the generator must be properly
grounded. The best place to ground your generator is by the
grounding connection of the electrical service. This may be a
ground rod or a cold water pipe. Only a qualified electrician
should make any connection inside the electrical service panel.
Don't open any existing ground connections.
5- All electric connections must comply with the National
Electrical Code. You may be liable for damage to property or
injury to people that may result from an improperly installed or
operation of an emergency generator.
6- Never never feed power from your generator into a wall
outlet. A fire hazard exists if the branch circuit is not large
enough to handle the entire load. Usually it is not. Than there
is the hazard of having an energized male plug end. Above all if
the wiring is not isolated the generator will back feed the
7- Operation in wet weather or under potentially wet conditions
may cause electrical shock or electrocution. Avoid contact with
the generator if you are wet or standing in water.
8- Check cords running from your generator to make sure they are
in good condition, rated for outdoor use and are the proper wire
gauge size for the appliance load.
9- Do not store fuel indoors or refuel your generator while it's