Portable generators can be lifesavers when the electricity goes out after a storm or power failure. More individuals and businesses will likely be turning to them as natural disasters increase in frequency, length and intensity and our power grid becomes increasingly burdened. Texans have felt the effects of both of these phenomena in recent years.
However, portable generators have also caused fatalities due to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning – an average of 70 annually in the U.S. – and thousands more injuries. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a portable generator can emit the same amount of carbon monoxide as 450 cars.
Investigative report details dangers, roadblocks
Although the government has known about the dangers of portable generators for many years, little has been done to require manufacturers to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide they emit. A recent in-depth study by several media organizations, including The Texas Tribune, found that a regulatory structure that dates back in part to the Reagan administration allows manufacturers of generators and other equipment that emits carbon monoxide to largely regulate themselves.
These manufacturers argue that they have voluntarily taken a number of steps to improve the safety of their products. These include automatic shut-off switches if the CO level gets to a certain point. However, those have not worked consistently.
They also claim that when used according to directions, they are safe. Unfortunately, one of those instructions is to use the generators outside, which often defeats the purpose if a family without electricity is trying to heat their home – or at least a room. Further, generators with the most safety features are typically more expensive. Therefore, people are often forced to choose less-safe ones because that’s all they can afford.
Even with new mandates, unsafe generators will remain in use
Some members of Congress are working on legislation that would empower the CPSC to require a mandatory standard for CO emissions and shut-off switches. However, people in the industry say that even if such regulations went into effect, people could still have earlier model generators in their homes and businesses for at least another couple of decades.
Often, one way to incentivize manufacturers to improve safety standards is to hold them liable for injuries and fatalities. When victims or their surviving loved ones seek justice and compensation, they can help bring about change that often takes too long when left to government entities.