Designed to help raise the standards of electrical safety in the workplace, portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment that have been classified as “portable” to ensure that they are safe to use. In accordance with the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989), any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury must be maintained in a safe condition.

Sound relatively straightforward? Although the regulations are clear in their intent, they do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently. Nevertheless, with tough sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, the objective is to drive compliance and reduce the number of accidents in the workplace specifically electricity related accidents and cases where employees are put at risk due to the failure to properly comply with the Electricity at Work Regulations.

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 could be prevented with proper electrical checks, inspections and safety tests.

What should we test – and how do we define portable?

For the purposes of PAT regulations, portable appliances are defined as those that use a flexible cable or plug and socket. This means that if there is an appliance that has a plug that is connected to a wall socket or generator, it should be PAT tested. This definition includes equipment that is either hand-held or hand-operated while connected to the supply, intended to be moved while connected to the supply, or likely to be moved while connected to the supply.

Portable equipment also includes appliances which may have been fixed for security purposes, such as those in public areas of hotels or changing rooms including kettles, hairdryers and hand dryers, for instance.

As truly fixed appliances, such as wall mounted hand dryers, appeared to fall between the code of practice for PAT testing in its older edition and the 17th edition wiring regulations, the latest code of practice makes it clear there is a responsibility to test these appliances, but the person involved must be properly trained in safe isolation.

When it comes to testing portable appliances, the HPAT Series of portable appliance testers from Martindale Electric – one of the most trusted brands in electrical safety enables both contractors and competent in-house personnel to quickly and safely verify the electrical safety of all types of appliances.

What is the role of a visual inspection, or user check?

Although many electrical safety defects can be identified by visual inspection, some types of defect can only be found by carrying out testing.  It is important to note, however, that even where testing is a necessary element of the diagnostic process, a visual examination may prove critical in detecting safety defects that cannot be identified solely by testing.

A simple training programme and checklist can help to guide an initial user check, but a more formal visual inspection and testing regime carried out by a competent person may be required, depending on the type of equipment and its operating environment.

Who can carry out PAT testing?

While the 5th Edition of the IET Code of Practice emphasises the need for risk assessment, partly to reduce unnecessary testing, it still requires that PAT testing be carried out by a competent person but what does that mean in real-world settings?

The Code describes competence as “possessing sufficient technical knowledge or experience to be capable of ensuring that risk is prevented.”

The Code further describes “technical knowledge” as “adequate knowledge of electricity and electrical work and adequate understanding of the equipment to be worked on. An awareness of the hazards that may arise and the precautions to be taken.”

When undertaking combined inspection and testing, a greater level of knowledge and experience is needed. Furthermore, the person will need the right equipment to carry out the tests, the ability to use the test equipment properly and would also need to be able to properly understand the test results.

Organisations that neglect the inspection and testing of appliances or fail to nominate a competent or appropriately trained individual, potentially risk invalidating their insurance policies and endangering lives. Should a fault arise in an appliance that is left unchecked or not properly checked by an under-qualified individual, the consequences could prove fatal.

How often is often enough?

When it comes to determining how often an item of electrical equipment should be tested, there are no hard and fast rules. HSE Guidelines suggest “regular testing”, and this is generally interpreted as a requirement for annual testing. As circumstances and conditions of use will often vary, however, the frequency of inspection and testing will depend upon the type of equipment being used and the operating environment.

For example, a power tool used on a construction site should be examined more frequently than a lamp in a hotel bedroom. The subject of Portable Appliance Testing can be really tricky for employers to navigate. Although the requirement surrounding PAT are not stipulated in law, in order to guarantee wider legal compliance, it is mandatory for employers to prove that their workforce operates within a safe environment, so regular testing of portable appliances is absolutely vital.

We understand that complex regulations can be difficult to interpret, particularly when a lack of compliance can result in devastating consequences, both in terms of legal repercussions and even injury or loss of life. That is why we have invested in developing and manufacturing products and support services to help ensure that it is as straightforward as possible to stay safe and compliant.

To find out more on this subject, view further information here

Paul Wilson

UK & Ireland Sales Manager