Key safety messages for using portable power generators

Generators offers the convenience of a power supply in emergencies, but they can also be deadly.

Portable power generators can be a godsend during power outages caused by storms, cyclones or floods.

The convenience of being able to power electrical appliances, like fridges and freezers, is invaluable when access to the main grid is unavailable.

However, there are several key safety messages which must be followed to ensure generators are used safely.

Only position the generator outside with a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use, and never inside a property.

A petrol or diesel-powered generator emits carbon monoxide which can have deadly consequences if breathed in an enclosed space.

Generators should be kept well away from open windows, including those of neighbours, so dangerous exhaust fumes do not enter any homes.

It is important the generator is always kept dry and not used in rainy conditions. This is particularly important given wet weather can continue after severe weather events.

Appliances can be plugged directly into the generator but read the manufacturers’ instructions beforehand.

Never plug a generator directly into a home's wiring.Power from a generator connected to a home's wiring will “back feed” into powerlines, potentially causing a safety hazard for your household, neighbours and power company workers.

It can also cause damage to your generator when power is restored.

Generator do's

  • Keep the generator outside. Never use it indoors.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Keep the generator dry. Do not use in rain or wet conditions. Protect from moisture by operating on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure.
  • Dry wet hands before touching the generator.
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator. Or use a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated in watts or amps at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Check that the entire cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially an earthing pin.

Generator don'ts

  • Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as backfeeding. This is extremely dangerous and is an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbours served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
  • If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, get a licensed electrical contractor to do it in accordance with AS/NZS 3000 Electrical installations (known as the Australian/New Zealand Wiring Rules) and Energex or Ergon Energy requirements.
  • Avoid creating a fire hazard. Store fuel for your generator in properly labelled non-glass safety containers. Store out of the home and away from fuel-burning appliances such as natural gas water heater in the garage.
  • Before refuelling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Fuel spilt on hot engine parts could ignite.

Sources: Queensland Workplace Health and Safety and Energex.