By Chad Engle, Loss Prevention and Safety Specialist

Many of NIRMA’s member county courthouses and other buildings are equipped with emergency generators that allow them to continue serving their constituents during a power outage. As with all electrical devices, generator safety is paramount. Improper installation and use of a generator can lead to property damage, injury or even death.

Your maintenance person should contact your local electrical utility to determine what requirements they have. The Lincoln Electric System (LES) recommends the following for generator safety:

  • The only safe – and legal – way to connect a generator is through a properly installed “double throw switch.” Contact an electrician to learn more.
  • Generators should be installed by a qualified electrician and bear the mark of a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL, Intertek or CSA.
  • You are required to notify LES of your generator installation so LES can approve the final wiring before you put the generator into service.
  • Read all operating instructions and manufacturer warnings before using the equipment. If the information is unclear, contact the manufacturer or dealer.
  • Connect only those appliances needed during an outage directly into the generator.
  • Your city or county building department must inspect any generator that is permanently installed.
  • Never operate a generator while standing in water.Never operate a generator inside enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, including your home or garage.
  • Install battery-operated CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS or plug-in alarms with a battery backup.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends generators be positioned at least 20 FEET from doors, windows, and vents to prevent carbon monoxide from entering buildings.
  • Make sure your generator is properly grounded and used with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, or GFCI.
  • Generators are temporary power sources and should not be used as a permanent solution.
  • NEVER connect generators directly to household wiring without first installing a transfer switch. This prevents back feeding which could injure utility workers making repairs.
  • Use only three-pronged plugs that are rated for the intended load.
  • Do NOT overload the generator.

NIRMA’s experience with electrical damage claims relating to generators has taught us a couple things. It is important that someone be trained in how to properly use the generator. Improper use of the generator can cause damage to sensitive electrical equipment such as radios and computers. Generators have settings that should be set based on the intended use and the type of equipment the generator is powering.

It is also important to be certain the generator you choose is intended to work with the type of equipment you will be powering. Some generators do not work well with sensitive electronic equipment. Be sure to consult with a qualified electrician and to notify your local electrical utility provider of your intent to install a generator. If you already have a generator installed, it would behoove you to have it checked by a qualified electrician to ensure it will not damage sensitive electrical equipment when put into service.