As North Carolina braces for yet another winter storm, the Red Cross cautions residents about important precautions if they’re using a portable generator. When the electricity goes out, as often happens during a storm or other weather event or when the power grid becomes overwhelmed by people running their heat or air conditioning, generators can keep people comfortable and allow them to continue working or just keep the lights on. They can literally be lifesavers for those who rely on electricity for breathing apparatuses and more.
However, portable generators have the potential to cause injury and even death from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that a portable generator can emit as much carbon monoxide as 450 cars combined. The agency estimates that about 70 people die from CO poisoning caused by portable generators every year.
Safety precautions have largely been voluntary
For years, the government has been aware of the risks of CO poisoning caused by portable generators. However, federal regulations on their manufacturers have been lax. Congress generally feels pressure from powerful business entities when it tries to crack down on them.
Manufacturers claim that they have voluntarily implemented numerous safety features like switches that automatically shut off the generator if the CO level gets to a specific level. There have been numerous reports, however, of these switches not working as they should.
Some members of Congress would like to pass legislation that would let the CPSC mandate CO emissions standards, automatic shut-off switches and other safety requirements. Of course, even if such legislation succeeded, any new regulations would only apply to new generators.
Among the Red Cross’s safety guidelines when using a generator are keeping it outside, away from doors, windows and vents and not using it unless you have a CO detector and alarm in your home. People should get to fresh air immediately if they begin to feel sick, weak or dizzy. CO poisoning can set in very quickly.
If you or a loved one has been harmed or worse by a portable generator, it may be wise to find out what legal recourse you may have for seeking justice and compensation.