Electrical generator safety

In emergencies, using an electrical generator as a back-up power supply can keep your important appliances running. However, generators can be very dangerous when not used correctly. They can be serious fire and electrical hazards, and cause life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning.

Use the following safety advice - along with a careful reading and understanding of the generator's instructions - to help you avoid dangerous situations.

You can also download and keep our Electrical safety generator guide (PDF 514.1 kb).

Types of backup power supply

There are several types of backup power supply available, and not all are generators. You’ll need to know which type you’re using to apply the right safety advice. The types of backup power supply are:

Uninterruptible power supply

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), also known as a battery backup, provides backup power when your regular power source fails. A UPS usually only lasts a few hours, giving you time to shut down protected equipment like computers, data centres, telecommunication equipment or other electrical equipment.

Small portable petrol/diesel generators

Small generators can be used to power appliances. Although they’re portable, they can be noisy, can emit harmful fumes and only generate enough power for a few small appliances.

Large fixed petrol/diesel/gas generators

Large generators can provide enough power to keep households and businesses running when electricity supply is disrupted. They’re essential for some businesses. But they’re expensive and they’re not portable.

Using a generator to power your home or business

The only way to safely connect a generator to your home or business’ wiring is to have an isolating switch installed by a licensed electrical contractor.  This is also known as a changeover switch. It creates a safe, permanent connection from your generator to your household wiring.

IMPORTANT: Don’t turn on the isolating switch if your home or business has been damaged.

Never attempt to connect your generator to the wiring of your house through power points or using makeshift ‘suicide leads’. This can feed power back into our network, which has the potential to give life threatening shocks to:

  • you and your family
  • your neighbours
  • anyone standing close to nearby fallen powerlines
  • emergency crews working to restore your normal electricity supply.

It could also damage or destroy your generator when the mains power is restored.

Safety tips for electrical generator use

Electrical hazards

In an emergency, you might be tempted to rush your generator’s set up or use makeshift equipment to draw power. However, using a generator like this can easily destroy your appliances, damage the electrical network, and give you a deadly electric shock.

Use the following tips to reduce the risk of electrical accidents when using a generator:

Do:

  • Read the manufacturer's instructions before using your generator
  • Only use generators that comply with AS2970. Check the packaging for the Australian Standard mark
  • Have an isolating switch installed by a licensed electrical contractor if you want to connect your generator to your home or business’ wiring
  • Choose a generator that has the right wattage to power the appliances you need
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions before plugging appliances directly into your generator
  • Turn appliances on one by one to avoid overloading the generator
  • Rotate the use of larger items
  • Use heavy-duty extension cords, rated for outdoor use
  • Check leads and powerboards for damage before connecting them
  • Keep leads and powerboards away from wet areas
  • Earth your generator using the manufacturer’s recommendations
  • Take into account that appliances with motors will use three to four times their running rating while they are starting up.

Don’t:

  • Attempt to connect your generator to the wiring of your house without an isolating switch
  • Use suicide leads or modified plugs
  • Install, operate or connect a generator that’s submerged in water, or when you’re standing in water
  • Try to connect many appliances at the same time
  • Overload your generator above its rated ‘wattage’.

Fire hazards

Hot engine parts, exhaust or naked flames could ignite your generator’s fuel, starting a dangerous fire.

Use these tips to reduce the risk of fire when using a generator:

  • Never leave your generator unattended while it’s running
  • Turn it off at night and when you’re away from home
  • Never refuel a hot generator or one that is running
  • Always allow your generator to cool down before refueling
  • Avoid naked flames or using ignition sources near your generator.

Carbon monoxide hazards

If you’re using a diesel/petrol/gas generator, you’ll need to take extra precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning. Fuel-burning generators produce toxic carbon monoxide gas, which is colourless, odourless and can reach life-threatening concentrations before being noticed.

Take these steps to protect yourself from carbon monoxide when using your generator:

  • Run your generator outside only
  • Position your generator away from open windows, including those of your neighbours
  • Use a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm with the generator. This will alert you if levels become dangerously high
  • Be a good neighbour. Generators can be loud so try to place it where it will cause least disturbance to everyone.

Read our Electrical safety generator guide (PDF 514.1 kb) before using your generator.

Preparing your generator for storm season

Storms, cyclones, and floods are more common over the summer months, which means you’re more likely to need your generator too. At the start of each storm season, prepare your generator by:

  • draining the fuel tank and refilling the tank with fresh fuel
  • inspecting the fuel line for cracks and replacing if necessary
  • turning on the generator and testing to make sure it is working properly
  • taking it for any required servicing or repairs.

When storm season is over, store your generator carefully so it will be ready for next year.

Using your generator efficiently

Running an electrical generator can be expensive. Use the following tips to improve your fuel efficiency:

  • Use appliances only when needed
  • Turn the generator off If no appliances are running
  • Turn the generator off at night and when you're away from home
  • If you're only running lights, consider using a different power source
  • Refrigerators may need to run for only a few hours per day to preserve food.

Want more information?

Download our electricity safety guide (PDF 2.2 mb) as a handy electrical safety reference.

For more on electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Office website.