THE ROBINSON REPORT #27: Portable Generators—Delaying Safety is Denying Safety!

Although portable generators provide important electrical power in a number of situations, they are extremely dangerous as they are presently designed. Most people have no idea just how dangerous they are. A portable generator emits about 450 times more carbon monoxide (CO) than an idling automobile!!

CO poisonings from portable generators usually occur when people operate them in their homes, garages, or too close to an open window. From 2004-2012, CO poisoning from portable generators contributed to at least 659 deaths and over 25,000 medically-attended injuries, many of which may have resulted in catastrophic, long-term disabilities. These appalling numbers are not surprising when you consider the fact that portable generators are frequently used in weather-related emergencies.

The instructions on portable generators state the product must be used outdoors, but warn consumers of an electrocution hazard if they are operated in wet conditions. However, even if a portable generator is operated outside as instructed, it requires the use of an extension cord, and if the cord is not long enough and is connected through an open window, there is an increased risk of CO emissions entering the home.

There is a technologically feasible solution available now that would reduce CO emissions by over 90 percent and would save countless lives.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC” or “Commission”) has a number of statutory restrictions on its ability to pass mandatory standards. Therefore, CPSC has engaged in enormous efforts through countless interactions with industry members in the voluntary standards process -with UL starting in 2002 and, subsequently, with the Portable Generator Manufacturers Association (“PGMA”) since its inception in 2009- to develop a robust voluntary standard that would require the reduction of CO emissions.

With the exception of just a couple of manufacturers, industry has steadfastly refused.

I met with PGMA leadership over a year ago in the hope that they were finally going to make some forward movement on a voluntary standard to address CO emissions. To my dismay, they not only continued to refuse to consider reducing emissions, but also refused to even consider including a longer extension cord to make it easier to operate the portable generator at a safe distance from the home. Instead, their focus was solely on warning labels and education, which, alone, have been shown to be insufficient in reducing deaths and injuries.

Finally, the CPSC decided that it must move forward with a mandatory standard.

On November 2, 2016, I proudly voted with Chairman Kaye, and Commissioners Adler and Mohorovic, to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) to publish a mandatory performance standard that sets a maximum CO emission rate for portable generators. The NPR set a comment period of 75 days, instead of the standard 60 days, due to the technical nature of the proposed rule. Only after the comment period closes will staff be able to evaluate the comments and address them in a draft Final Rule for consideration by the Commission.

On November 14, 2016, PGMA whose members, as stated, have been involved with this issue for over 15 years sent the Commission a letter requesting a 75-day extension of the comment period which will further delay a proposed Final Rule. PGMA’s last- minute scrambling to obstruct the rulemaking process is disingenuous and troubling.

On December 7, 2016, the Commission voted 4-1 to grant PGMA’s requested extension. I voted against granting this extension since there was no legitimate reason given for needing more time and further delay in passing this important rule will only cost more lives.  I am very disheartened that my fellow Commissioners chose to grant this extension.

If I had seen any indication in my 3 ½ years as a Commissioner that PGMA was making a good-faith effort to address the reduction in emissions from portable generators, I would have enthusiastically supported those efforts. I have seen none. Therefore, I do not believe that CPSC should be enabling this poor behavior from a sophisticated stakeholder by delaying the mandatory rule even further.

As I fully explained in my Statement on the FY17 Operating Plan and during the Decisional on the NPR on Portable Generators, the time to act to reduce CO emissions from portable generators and to make them safer is now!

Any delay in moving forward on the NPR for portable generators, including an extension of the public comment period, is a denial of safety. Future consumers who will buy or use portable generators during upcoming and dangerous winter storms are relying on us to do our jobs and protect them from easily preventable hazards.

We can do better.

We must do better.

I respectfully dissent from my fellow Commissioners’ decision to allow an extension and hope, despite this extension, the CPSC moves quickly to finalize the mandatory rule for portable generators so that we can once and for all #OutSmartCO.

Posted in Home Safety, Portable Generators, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .