To guarantee legal compliance, it is compulsory for employers to prove that their workforce operates within a safe environment, so regular Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is a must, but where does the responsibility lie and what level of competency is required?

The Electricity at Work regulations of 1989 simply states that inspection and testing must be carried out by a competent person; however it does not mention a benchmark for competency.

It could be argued that as the majority of equipment defects can be found during a formal visual inspection – “the HSE says that 95% of faults or damage can be identified just by looking” – a detailed examination by a competent person is sufficient.

However, to safely identify all potentially dangerous faults, visual inspection needs to be linked with a programme of periodic inspection and testing. This inspection and testing would reveal any ‘invisible’ faults such as earth continuity, insulation integrity, incorrect polarity, excessive protective conductor current and other potential problems; for example, an unsuitable fuse would cause the item to be classed as dangerous.

An example reported to The Health & Safety:

Whilst using a pressure washer appliance, a worker suffered a 240 volt electric shock. After investigation, it was found that the company responsible had not maintained the appliance as they legally should have done. The company was prosecuted and fined under the Factories Act 1961 and the Electricity at Work Act 1989.

A case like this highlights the importance of competent PAT testing. Clearly any combined inspection and testing measures should be appropriate to the particular risk posed by the equipment and its environment, for example maintenance procedures in a small low risk office may differ from those in a larger organisation. This may involve ensuring the correct test equipment is available, identifying the correct tests have been performed at the right time in the correct sequence and providing records of test levels and results.

So, with this in mind, cost effective maintenance of portable electrical equipment can therefore be achieved through a combination of user checks, formal visual inspection and electrical testing. However, it is this combined inspection and testing programme which requires a greater level of competence than for inspection alone. For example, The Electricity At Work Regulations 1989 requires that, “Testing should be carried out by a competent person who can correctly identify those items to be inspected and tested, which tests are appropriate, how to perform the tests and how to interpret the results”.

Clarification of this question of competency is also provided in the the IEE Code of Practice which advises that,
“This person should possess sufficient technical knowledge or experience to be capable of ensuring that injury is prevented”.
The Code continues with further explanation of what that technical knowledge or experience may comprise, including such factors as having an adequate knowledge of electricity, an adequate understanding and practical experience of the system to be worked on and an understanding of the hazards that may arise and the precautions to be taken.

As there are set procedures involved in how testing and inspection of electrical appliances have to be carried out, attending portable appliance training courses becomes imperative to understand these procedures. Imagine if an employer assigned someone the task who was not fully competent and there was an accident? It could result in issues of liability.

And it’s not just the real time testing of electrical appliances that are covered in PAT training courses, but also how to prevent damage to electrical appliances and how to avoid accidents or potential health hazards before working upon them, which is also of paramount importance.

PAT training courses are very important not just for the employees but also for the companies that employ them. After all, a PAT test course will provide the necessary theoretical and practical knowledge about testing and inspecting different electrical appliances, thereby assuring the safety of the people handling them and those surrounding them.

Companies neglecting the inspection and testing of appliances by a competent and trained individual are not only potentially invalidating their insurance policies but are also endangering their employees or even members of the public. Should a fault arise in an appliance which is either left unchecked or undetected by an unqualified individual, the consequences could prove to be fatal.

So what ensures a good PAT tester provider? PAT testing is a practical skill, and the best way to learn is on a traditional training course run by an experienced provider, where you can get a mix of theory and hands-on practical experience. Although some organisations promote online training or training by simply watching a DVD, there is no substitute for actually getting your hands on equipment! Plus, on most courses – which usually last a day – you will get to try out different ‘industry standard’ PAT testers, from the very basic PASS or FAIL devices, right through to the latest computerised downloading PAT testing machines.

Another factor to take into consideration when choosing a provider is course size. A smaller group with a maximum attendance level of 10-12 people will allow the space to cope with practical sessions and the time to answer individual questions.

Also, although there is a formal City & Guilds qualification, it should be noted that this isn’t a pre-requisite as most professional PAT testing companies don’t specify a need for it. With the main emphasis being on common sense, PAT testing doesn’t have to be complicated. Most good providers will help you understand how to achieve the right balance, as well as teaching you exactly what the law requires.

Martindale Electric knows that efficient PAT testing is the key to success in ensuring your company is compliant with current legislation and working practices. Offering on-site PAT training for up to 10 people, the training includes an important hands-on session which gives delegates the opportunity to test different appliances under supervision.

According to The Health and Safety Executive, 25% of all reportable electrical accidents involve portable appliances. From these figures, it is clear that a large number of incidents and injuries caused by misused or faulty electrical equipment can be prevented with proper electrical checking, inspection and safety testing.