CO Poisoning Warning for Users of Portable Generators

Source: Kheng Guan Toh - 123RF

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is issuing an important warning about the lethal hazard of carbon monoxide poisoning to consumers relying on portable generators for temporary electrical power in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.  

Consumers in the path of the storm need to be especially careful during power outages and take the proper precautions to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning while using portable generators, which emit carbon monoxide as exhaust.

Proper precautions include the following: 

  • Never use a generator inside a home, garage or shed. Carbon monoxide from generators is poisonous and can kill you in minutes. Carbon monoxide is called the “invisible killer” because you cannot see it or smell it;
  • Use your generator outside your house only, at least 20 feet from your home and position the generator so the exhaust is directed in a safe direction, and not towards windows or other points of access to living quarters;
  • Make sure you have working carbon monoxide alarms in your home. They should be placed outside separate sleeping areas and on each floor of your home; and
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms too. Check the batteries!  They should be placed on every level of your home, outside sleeping areas and inside each bedroom.

OSHA is reminding employers to take necessary precautions to protect workers from the serious and potentially fatal effects of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure.

Recent incidents highlight the need to educate employers and employees about the dangers of carbon monoxide exposure from portable generators and other equipment in enclosed spaces.

CO is a colorless, odorless, and toxic gas, so it is important that employers and employees alike know the symptoms of overexposure.

These can include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, or tightness across the chest. Severe carbon monoxide over-exposure can cause neurological damage, coma, and death.

Every year, carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of employees nationwide, usually when fuel-burning equipment and tools are used in buildings or semi-enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation.

The danger increases during the winter months when this type of equipment is used in indoor areas that have been sealed tightly to block out cold temperatures and wind.

In addition to portable generators and space heaters, sources of carbon monoxide can include anything that uses combustion to operate, such as power tools, compressors, pumps, welding equipment, furnaces, gas-powered forklifts, and motorized vehicles.

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure in the workplace, employers should install an effective ventilation system, avoid the use of fuel-burning equipment and vehicles in enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces, and use carbon monoxide detectors in areas where the hazard may exist.

Employers should also take other precautions as outlined in OSHA’s Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.

Additional OSHA resources include videos (in English and Spanish), QuickCards (in English and Spanish) and a fact sheet on portable generator safety.