As marriage season peeks, it is time to cut out the generator

Pushpa Girimaji | 03 Dec 2015 03:04 PM
This wedding season, as  I see the brightly lit  processions of ‘baaratis’ slowly winding their way to the marriage venue,  I am reminded of the  tragedy that struck one such parade  in the beginning of this year in Ghaziabad. A tragedy that could well have been averted  with a little precaution in the use of the portable generator that supplies  power for illuminating these processions on the otherwise dark roads.  And so here I am, writing about the dangers inherent in the use of these portable generators and the imperative need for exercising utmost caution to prevent serious accidents.  And I really wish to drive home the safety factor.

In the Ghaziabad incident, the ‘baaratis’ were led by five young boys carrying brightly lit lanterns hung from a long iron rod placed   on their shoulders.  And these lanterns were powered by a portable generator mounted on a moving tempo at the back of the procession.

 

Sometime after midnight, there was a short circuit in the generator and as a consequence, the electric current started flowing through the metal rods carried by the boys.  While two were electrocuted and were declared ‘brought dead’ by the hospital where they were rushed, the other three were admitted with severe burns in a very critical condition.

 



Most of us would have seen these generators mounted on a small truck or a tempo and moving behind the procession, but paid no attention to it.  In fact, most people are not even aware that these generators produce enough electrical power to cause shock or electrocution, if safety instructions are not followed! And in this case too, the contractor who was providing the horse carriage, lighting and the generator, had paid no heed to the safety factor. But what is most shocking here is that the contractor did not use wood, but metal poles to hang the lanterns connected to the generator and kept them on the shoulders of these minors, putting their lives at great risk. And the young boys, who had taken the job driven by poverty, paid the price.

 

So whether you are part of the ‘baarat’ or hiring the services of a contractor for providing all the paraphernalia for a baarat,  I would suggest that you look at the use of the generator very carefully, from the point of view of safety.  Do not allow a happy occasion to end in tragedy.

 

In fact it would be safer to use kerosene lamps than these generator-powered lights.  More so because these days you can never say when it will rain and the rain drops or any other source of water on the generator can well pose the risk of shock and electrocution.  There is also the possibility of a spark from a firecracker burst during the occasion, causing a major accident.

 

Even if you are using these portable generators elsewhere, you need to follow all safety precautions. For example, they must be placed on a dry surface and protected from rain water or any other source of water or moisture. You must also not touch them with wet hands.  You also need to use only  heavy duty wires or extension cords meant specifically for outdoor use.    And you must ensure that the cord is not damaged, frayed or cut at any point.  Always check the capacity or the load rating of the generator and ensure that you do not overload it by attaching too many items to it as that could   lead to a fire.

 

It is also extremely important to keep all flammable material away from the generator while it is in use. It is also best not to refuel it  while the engine is running or is hot.   Similarly, one must not overfill the tank.

 

But the most important safety factor to be kept in mind is that these generators should never be used indoors, as they release carbon monoxide, which can kill in minutes. In fact the biggest threat from these generators is carbon monoxide poisoning and therefore even when placed outside, one should take care to ensure that they are not close to windows or doors through which Carbon Monoxide can enter the building.

 

In the United States, for example, where on an average 150 deaths are reported each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, portable generators have to mandatorily carry a warning label saying that “using a generator indoors can kill you in minutes”.

 

Since most people are unaware that generators, powered by an internal combustion engine, releases carbon monoxide,  we in India too  need to have adequate warnings on these generators in not just English, but also local languages. Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide causes mental confusion, loss of muscular coordination, followed by loss of consciousness and death. So never use these generators  indoors, even  if the place is well-ventilated.

(The writer is a well-known Consumer Rights Columnist. Email: pgirimaji@gmail.com)

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