Homeland Security and Emergency Services

Shock and Electrocution

The electricity created by generators has the same hazards as normal utility-supplied electricity.  It also has some additional hazards because generator users often bypass the safety devices (such as circuit breakers) that are built into electrical systems.

To reduce shock and electrocution hazards:plug

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Make sure a generator is grounded properly and that grounding connections are tight.  Consult the manufacturer's instructions for proper grounding methods.

  • Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a home, office, trailer, etc. unless a qualified electrician has properly installed the generator with a transfer switch.  Attaching a generator directly to a building electrical system without a properly installed transfer switch can energize wiring systems for great distances, which creates a risk of electrocution for utility workers and others in the area.

  • Always plug electrical appliances directly into the generator using the manufacturer’s supplied cords or extension cords that are grounded (3-pronged).

  • Inspect cords to make sure they are intact and not damaged, cut or abraded – never use frayed or damaged extension cords.  Ensure cords are rated appropriately (in watts or amps) for the intended use.  Do not use underrated cords – replace them with appropriately rated cords that use heavier gauge wires.

  • Do not exceed the rated capacity of your generator – overloading a generator can damage the generator and any appliances connected to it, and it may cause a fire.  Most small, home-use portable generators produce 350 to 12,000 watts of power.

  • An emergency generator should not power certain voltage-sensitive electronic appliances (televisions, computers, stereos, etc.) without using a UL-listed voltage surge protection device.

  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), especially where electrical equipment is used in or around wet or damp locations.  GFCIs shut off power when an electrical current is detected outside normal paths.  GFCIs and extension cords with built-in GFCI protection can be purchased at hardware stores, do-it-yourself centers, and other locations that sell electrical equipment.  Regardless of GFCI use, electrical equipment used in wet and damp locations must be listed and approved for those conditions.

  • Keep a generator dry – do not use it in the rain or wet conditions.  If needed, protect a generator with a canopy.  Never manipulate a generator’s electrical components if you are wet or standing in water.

  • Do not use electrical equipment that has been submerged in water.  Equipment must be thoroughly dried out and properly evaluated before using.  Power off and do not use any electrical equipment that has strange odors or begins smoking.

  • Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting down your generator.