Electrical PAT Testing – Understanding the Regulations For Electrical PAT Testing
Fires caused by faulty electrical appliances are one of the most shared causes of fires in places of work. The problems that cause these fires are not always obvious to the untrained eye, so can only be discovered by carrying out a proper series of tests on the equipment. On some occasions, however, faults should be patently obvious to anyone who looks at an appliance (eg exposed wires, broken casing, etc), and the main problem is just inadequate maintenance and checking.
As an employer you have duty under UK law to properly continue portable electrical equipment in good working order, and to test it at regular intervals. The main pieces of legislation that set out PAT testing regulations are the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Failure to fulfill this duty could consequence in prosecution, but more importantly, could rule to serious injury to your staff and possible serious disruption to your business if you suffer a fire.
What Is A Portable Appliance?
Portable electrical appliances are those pieces of equipment which can be moved around, instead of being fixed or permanently wired into the building. There is a inclination to simplify this definition to doing a portable appliance check on anything with a plug on, but while this may work in the majority of situations, it does not cover all situations. The best definition of a portable electrical appliance is that of something which is designed to be moved while connected to a supply of electricity.
The regulations do not just relate to equipment which is the character of the business. The responsibility of the employer is for any electrical equipment brought onto the premises. So you must have systems in place to deal with contractors or permanent workers who may bring their own equipment in to use. Do not forget that it would also apply to any electrical equipment not directly related to carrying out your chief work. Things like the sound and lighting system for the Christmas disco, or curling tongs or hair dryer brought in by a member of staff who plans to get ready at work before going straight out.
Who Can Carry Out The Testing?
The explanation in the regulations regarding who must carry out your electrical testing is that it should be Competent Person. This is taken to average that they have to know what they are doing, and must consequently have had the appropriate training or experience. Many companies use specialist contractors to do this and others put their own staff by training so they can carry it out in-house.
There is no compulsory qualification that you have to gain in order to attempt this work. There are many one day courses which are obtainable all around the country, most of which will provide a certificate, and some of which offer the City and Guilds 2377 qualification. There are also online or DVD courses obtainable. If you are going to attempt electrical PAT testing in-house, you will also need to invest in PAT testing equipment.
Regulations are suitably vague on this point and the end consequence is that the employer has to be responsible for assessing the degree of risk with each appliance and making a judgement about the frequency of testing. On average once a year is reasonable though some items definitely require more and others will be fine with a less frequent portable appliance test. A hand drill, for example, gets moved around regularly and is far more liable to damage than, say, a computer printer. A quarterly check may be more appropriate for the hand drill, with a visual check each time it is used.
The frequency of testing that you decide upon can of course be modificated according to your experience. If you find that you PAT test something and there is never any problem, you may be able to reduce the frequency, while something that regularly fails or has faults could probably do with an increased frequency of checking.
The regulations are not precise on this point, but it makes good sense to record your results. Why go to the trouble of doing all your tests and not record the fact that you have done so. If anything goes wrong you will have no evidence to prove that you have complied with the law and taken reasonable steps to prevent problems.
Downloadable PAT testing equipment has software that records all the test results and enables them to be downloaded to a computer. This is extremely useful and will also print labels for all items, displaying the PAT test date, when the next PAT test is due, the test consequence (pass/fail) and a rare ID number to aid reporting.
There is no ambiguity in the PAT testing regulations about the actual need to testing equipment, so if you are an employer or the manager for a workplace then you personally have a legal obligation to ensure that all portable appliances brought onto those premises undergo regular checks and are well maintained and safe to use. It is best to view your duty under the regulations not so much as an onerous chore but as a sensible measure to help protect your business and your workforce.