Barker Insurance

The Dangers of Electrical or Portable Generators


 Even though this Winter has been a relatively mild one, the threat of load shedding always looms, many people have a generator as permanent fixture in their homes..

The question is, how much does the average person know about the dangers associated with generators?

It is important to note that any Generator installation should comply with the South African National Standard (SANS 10142-1:2003) for the wiring of the premises. Clause 7: 12 prescribe the minimum safety requirements for the installation of low voltage generators.

This is a legal requirement and failure to comply with these requirements could possibly invalidate your insurance should it be established that a fire or injury is caused as a result of the incorrect connection of the generator. It is advisable that you inform your broker and insurer that you have installed a generator and this should be noted on your policy.

Electrical Generators or Portable Generators are useful when temporary or remote electric power is needed. The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, fire and burns.

Every year, people die in incidents related to portable generator use. Most of the incidents associated with portable generators involve Carbon Monoxide poisoning from generators being used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces with inadequate open air ventilation.

Carbon Monoxide Hazards when using Generators:

When used in a confined space, generators can produce high levels of Carbon Monoxide within minutes. Remember that you cannot see or smell Carbon Monoxide. Even if you do not smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to these. Carbon monoxide at high levels can kill a person within minutes.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced when fuel such as gas, oil, petrol, diesel, wood, or charcoal is burned.

Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from Carbon Monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. Foetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anaemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.

If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. Do not delay.

Safety tips when using a Generator:

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

  • Never use a generator inside homes, garages, enclosed spaces, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of CO can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the generator. Locate the unit outdoors and far from doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.

Safety tips when using a Generator:

Electrical Hazards:

  • Generators pose a risk of shock and electrocution, especially if they are operated in wet conditions. If you must use a generator when it is wet outside, protect the generator from moisture to help avoid the shock/electrocution hazard.
  • Operate the generator under an open, canopy like structure on a dry surface where water cannot reach it or puddle or drain under it.
  • Dry your hands, if wet, before touching the generator.
  • If you have not had your generator wired into your premises by a qualified electrician only connect appliances to the generator using heavy-duty extension cords that are specifically designed for outdoor use.
  • Make sure the wattage rating for each cord exceeds the total wattage of all appliances connected to it.
  • Use extension cords that are long enough to allow the generator to be placed outdoors and far away from windows, doors and vents to the home or to other structures that could be occupied.
  • Check that the entire length of each cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs.
  • Protect the cord from getting pinched or crushed if it passes through a window or doorway. (Please note: we do not recommend that you use the generator in this way and you should install the generator correctly using a licensed electrician).
  • Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as "back feeding." This is extremely dangerous and presents a possible electrocution risk to external workers and neighbours served by the same transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
  • A licensed electrician or registered electrical contractor must carry out the installation.
  • Once the electrician has completed the installation ensure that he issues an Electrical Certificate of Compliance. Failure to obtain such a certificate could invalidate any insurance claims arising as a result of electrical faults or accidents.

Fire Hazards:

  • Never store fuel for your generator in the home. Petrol, Diesel, propane and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labelled, non-glass or breakable safety containers. Do not store them near any fuel burning or heating appliance.
  • Before refuelling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
  • Be extremely careful should you have to use a generator at night. Never use a naked flame, matches or a candle near the generator or fuel tanks. Make sure you have a torch available for use when turning the generator on.
  • It is advisable to keep a small fire extinguisher in close proximity to the generator. A 4.5 Kg Dry chemical Powder (DCP) or 2 Kg Carbon Dioxide (CO2) fire extinguisher is recommended.


Disclaimer of Liability - The guidelines expressed in his document are not intended to infringe nor replace the manufacturer's guidelines for safety and usage. This document is only a suggested guideline for the safe use of portable generators. The information in these guidelines including, without limitation, all research, opinions or other content is not intended, nor does it constitute, consulting or other professional advice or services. Before any decision is made or any action taken which might affect the use of generators, consultation with your own electrician or professional is advised.