• Dipesh Radia

The risks and solutions to power outages

As power outages continue to affect South African households and business, we need to look at measures to prevent or reduce damage that could be caused by an interrupted power supply.

Dipesh Radia, Executive: Actuarial and Underwriting at Alexander Forbes Insurance, addresses the following risks of power cuts:

  1. Fire – heating appliances left on when the power goes off, but not switched off again when the power comes on, are obvious fire hazards. “Simply switching off all heating appliances when the power goes off is the best precaution against fire,” says Radia. He continues, “Insurance will cover you for an unsupervised appliance that catches fire.”

  2. Electrical surge - damage can occur with motors, computerised equipment and other electrical appliances when authorities switch the power on again after load shedding. To prevent electrical surge damage, Radia suggests, South Africans should install electrical surge protectors on the main fuse box and in wall sockets. He suggests switching off appliances when the power goes off and know how to operate ones gate manually and keep keys to your garage doors so that you can enter and leave your house during outages. Alexander Forbes insurance pays for surge damage if the cover option chosen includes full accidental damage. The damage must be visible component damage and not just that a component has stopped working.

  3. Crime - An increase in criminal activity often results during load shedding, particularly because criminals are aware that most security systems run on electricity, frequently without sufficient backup battery power. To ensure burglar alarms continue to work during a power failure, Radia recommends the use of battery backups which will support the alarm system for between six to twelve hours. The battery recharges automatically when the electricity comes back on. Radia cautions that while some insurers will be sympathetic to alarm failure during a power outage if you can demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to make sure your alarm was in working order, others may not be quite as sympathetic. “Alexander Forbes Insurance looks at every case on its own merits. Alarm company records that show a habit of alarming the alarm and alarm testing as well as proof that you have recently replaced your battery will influence insurer decisions,” said Radia. Radia also recommends that South Africans make certain that their cell phones are charged when the power is on so that they can make emergency calls. He also feels that it is important to have a car charger in the event of a longer power outage.

  4. Deterioration of food in fridges and freezers - Power failures can damage the contents of fridges and freezers, “If it is a localised power problem you could move the food to somewhere else where it can be refrigerated.”

If the outage is a short one, there should be no damage to the food, but it is key to keep the refrigerator door closed during the entire outage.

Most insurance policies provide some cover for deterioration of food, but not if the loss of power is due to a deliberate switch off by authorities. Radia recommends that South Africans keep frozen bottled water in your freezer as this will help keep food cold during power outages.

Says Radia: “We may be in for the long haul, so South Africans need to consider alternative options. These may include items such as invertors, which allow for an uninterrupted supply of power for six to eight hours. While generators successfully ensure geysers and fridges remain on, they are costly and noisy to run and distribute hazardous fumes. Green alternatives such as wind turbines, solar geysers and solar electricity are off-grid options which should be considered so that you are not caught off guard when the power goes off.