Portable generator accidents kill an average 70 people a year in the U.S. That makes generators one of the deadliest consumer products on the market, and by far the most dangerous engine-driven power tool used widely. About 2,800 people a year suffer carbon monoxide poisoning directly related to portable generators.
The hazards are not new for consumers, though regulators have failed to harness the dangers presented by generators used at home and at the workplace. Manufacturers have continued to make defective generators and have not provided sufficient warnings.
Warning labels on machines are often small or do not warn the consumer about the risks of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Because the gas is difficult to detect and of the gradual onset of symptoms, carbon monoxide (CO) is often referred to as a “silent killer.” It is a leading cause of toxic-related deaths and illnesses worldwide. In the U.S. alone, hundreds of people die each years from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning—many of the victims at the workplace.
One of the more common sources of Carbon Monoxide (CO) in the workplace is the internal combustion engine. The obvious occupations at high risk are auto mechanics and others working around automobiles in a body shop or garage.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), at-risk occupations include any employee who works in a confined space. Additional work environments with a known increased carbon monoxide exposure risk include boiler rooms, steel mills, breweries, various warehouses, oil refineries, pulp and paper producers and shipyards.
Carbon monoxide exposure to may be due to the negligence of an employee, defective gas detectors, or workplace management failing to properly ventilate a workspace.
Improperly ventilated areas with appliances and engines, particularly in enclosed spaces, may allow carbon monoxide to build up and cause harm to employees. Although most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are mild, some serious complications may result.
Joe Lyon is an experienced product liability attorney and consumer safety lawyer reviewing portable generator accidents and reviewing injury claims for plaintiffs nationwide.
CO Poisoning Injury
The Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) chairman says every portable generator injury and accident is preventable, and urges companies to put safety over profit. Basic safeguards can save lives and deliver the same product.
Some portable generator accidents are due to machine defects, though the majority are CO poisoning related, generally when users run the machines in enclosed spaces like garages and workshops—Workplace Ventilation Risks. CO-related deaths linked to generators have risen, and there were at least 64 deaths in 2005 from portable generator CO poisoning.
CO Poisoning Symptoms
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in the bloodstream following acute exposure. When there is an excess of carbon monoxide in the air the body replaces oxygen in red blood cells with carbon monoxide, quickly leading to serious damage.
High levels of CO concentration in the body will prevent sufficient amounts of oxygen from reaching the heart and brain, ultimately leading to suffocation, hemorrhaging, nerve damage, brain damage, and possibly death. Severe CO gas poisoning may cause long-term heart health issues like coronary heart disease.
Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to differentiate from other potential health conditions. Low-level exposure is likely to cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea. Some people exposed to CO may feel as though they have the flu. Extended exposure will worsen symptoms and can be accompanied by a rapid pulse, confusion, loss of coordination, or collapse.
If multiple people in the same building have the same symptoms, CO poisoning should be suspected, and safety authorities alerted. The longer individuals are exposed to carbon monoxide, the more severe the symptoms and complications. Within the first hours, an exposed person may experience the following:
- Memory issues
- Trouble breathing
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Coordination difficulties
Portable Generator Defects
If you have suffered an injury related to a defective generator, you may have grounds for a product liability claim against the manufacturer. Defective generators have caused consumer deaths and serious injury such as:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Burn injury
- Accidental Electrocution
Defective generators may also leak fuel that can lead to home and workplace fires. Defective generator components parts can ignite materials and lead to explosion accidents. Generator warning labels must warn consumers and workers that exhaust can contain carbon monoxide, and warn of the hazards of using generators in enclosed spaces like garages.
Portable Generator Accidents
Portable generators are internal combustion engines that present specific hazards, which include electrocution, fire and burn injury, and carbon monoxide from the generator’s exhaust. Some basic guidelines for generator safety include:
- Never attach generators directly to the home or office electrical system
- Plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer’s supplied cords or extension cords that are grounded
- Do not overload a generator
- Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)
- Keep generators dry
- Never use a generator indoors or in enclosed spaces such as garages, crawl spaces, and basements
- Make sure a generator has 3 to 4 feet of clearance space on all sides
- Be aware of symptoms of CO poisoning—dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fatigue
- Before refueling, shut down the generator and allow it to cool