Electrical generator safety

Using an electrical generator as a back-up power supply can keep your important appliances running during emergencies. However, your generator can be very dangerous if you don’t use it correctly. They can create serious electrical and fire 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. These 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, but it’s enough time to properly shut down protected equipment such as 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 to buy and they’re not portable.

Using a generator to power your home or business

The only way to safely use a generator to power 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 it can be tempting to rush set up or use makeshift equipment to draw power from your generator. However, using a generator incorrectly 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
  • Consider 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 once
  • 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 the following tips to reduce your risk of fire hazards 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. Generators produce toxic carbon monoxide gas when burning fuel, which is colourless, odourless and can easily reach life-threatening levels without being noticed.

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

  • Run your generator outside only
  • Position your generator well away from open windows, including those of your neighbours
  • Always use a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm with the generator. This will alert you if levels become dangerously high
  • Be a good neighbour. A running generator can be loud so try to locate 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 unplanned power outages are 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 it with some appliances to make sure it is working properly
  • getting any repairs done so it’s ready for when you need it.

When storm season is over, properly store your generator so it will be ready to go next year.

Using your generator efficiently

Electrical generators can be expensive to run. Use the following tips to make sure you’re putting your fuel to good use:

  • Save fuel and money by using appliances only when needed
  • If no appliances are running, shut the generator off
  • 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
  • Turn the generator off at night and when you're away from home.

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.