Portable Appliance Testing is a process by which electrical appliances are routinely checked to see whether they are safe.
Many people think that PAT testing simply involves people “going around sticking labels on every appliance they can find”. In fact, the procedure, when done correctly, is extremely thorough and forms an important part of any Health & Safety policy.
Why is PAT testing necessary?
According to the Health and Safety Executive, there are approximately 1,000 major electrical related injuries reported each year. These can involve burns and electrical shocks and of these injuries around 30 of them are fatal.
The government in their latest Fire Statistics Bulletin, report that 5,391 fires were caused by "other electrical appliances" in 2006. Of these fires, 907 caused some kind of casualty and of those, 12 were fatal.
A proper program of PAT Testing is essential to help ensure that electrical related accidents are prevented.
As Lord McKenzie, Minister responsible for Health and Safety, said recently:
There is a strong business case for responsible health and safety at work and some employers clearly fail to take seriously the risks that many of their employees face each day. The government [is] committed to tackling the toll of workplace ill-health, injury and death and call on all employers to ensure that their workforce stays healthy.
Is PAT testing a legal requirement?
The Electricity at Work Regulations state in Regulation 4(2) that:
As may be necessary to prevent danger, all systems shall be maintained so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, such danger.
This regulation concerns the need for maintenance to be done as a precautionary measure to ensure safety of the system if danger would otherwise result. Maintenance should be performed on a regular basis in order to be sufficient to forestall any dangerous situations from occurring so far as is reasonably practicable.
The equipment should be examined regularly and electrical testing should be carried out for the purposes of preventive care. Real-world experience on the use of equipment and conditions prevailing can indicate a change to the frequency at which preventive maintenance needs to be done. This is an issue for the responsible person to judge. They need to locate all data needed to make the right judgment on pat testing, including referring to the manufacturers guidelines.
What should be maintained?
In order to prevent danger, all electrical equipment and systems should be maintained on a regular basis. Each and every piece of electrical equipment must be examined and tested according to the IEE Code of Practice recommendations. This includes equipment both permanently connected, and equipment connected by a plug to a socket outlet.
All electrical systems and equipment should be maintained if danger would otherwise arise. Other than the fixed installation, all electrical equipment in an installation, whether permanently connected or connected by a plug and socket outlet, should be inspected and tested in accordance with the recommendations contained in the IEE Code of Practice.
Also, "BS 7671: Requirements for Electrical Installations" insists that a fixed installation be examined and tested for safety on a periodic basis.
Who is responsible?
The following people have responsibility for the electrical safety of their systems and equipment.
- Users of electrical equipment (whose responsibilities include user checks).
- Administrators with responsibility for electrical maintenance who may not necessarily have detailed technical knowledge.
- The competent person carrying out the formal visual inspection and the inspections and tests.
- Other dutyholders such as company directors, managers or building services managers.
What is needed in order to comply with the regulations?
The requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations can be met by:
- performing pat testing (also known as "portable appliance testing" or "in-service inspection and testing")
- performing maintenance or, if necessary, replacing the defective item of equipment (depending upon the results of pat testing), and
- keeping up-to-date records that can be a means of showing compliance.
How often does PAT testing need to be carried out?
The tests should be performed by a 'competent' person using a PAT Tester machine. This should be done at regular intervals to ensure continual safety. The frequency depends on the type of appliance and the environment it is used in.
The exact recommendations are published by the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) in their “Code of Practice for In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment”. This guide forms the basis for Portable Appliance Testing in the UK.