The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require that electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition but do not specify how the safety maintenance must be performed. PAT testing is a type of maintenance for electrical equipment which involves examining electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe. This article explains everything you need to know about PAT testing in order to meet your health and safety obligations, whether you’re an employer, landlord or tenant.
What is PAT Testing?
PAT testing stands for portable appliance testing and is a method of testing the electrical safety of appliances and electrical systems. Portable appliance testing is a non-destructive, in-line inspection technique that can be used to test for defects in electrical equipment, including motors and other switching devices. PAT testing aims to ensure that products are safe to use and are able to withstand the maximum electrical load that they are designed for. PAT inspections can be visual and technical.
Portable appliance testing differs from fixed appliance testing which examines fixed electrical installations which are permanently wired into the building. For example, a kettle will be PAT tested whereas an oven will require fixed appliance testing which involves fully isolating and locking off the appliance before testing can commence.
Is PAT testing a legal requirement?
PAT testing is not a legal requirement but can count towards the maintenance of electrical equipment which is a legal obligation of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. There is also no legal requirement to apply PAT testing stickers onto tested appliances but these can help for appliance management purposes.
What should be PAT tested?
Any electrical equipment which is powered by mains voltages can be classified as a portable electrical appliance and should therefore be PAT tested. Class I and Class II appliances fall under this category and are required to provide at least two layers of protection to the end-user in the form of insulation and/or an earth connection. A PAT test will determine if these layers of protection are working correctly.
Does new equipment need PAT testing?
New equipment does not need to be PAT tested as manufacturers have a duty to supply equipment in a safe condition.
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Who can do PAT testing?
Formal visual inspections can be carried out by a competent person but PAT testing needs to be carried out by an electrically competent person who in most cases will be an electrician. The level of training required to do the PAT test will depend on the nature of your portable appliance and their operating environment. Higher-risk environments such as construction sites will require expertise and the right equipment to safely and properly perform the tests and understand the results. Pressure water cleaners which are powered by a 2340V electrical supply and a cable trailing the ground is an example of a high risk activity. The health and safety executive (HSE) provide examples of how frequently equipment should be assessed based on the risk level of the environment.
PAT testing courses also exist and can be a good way to train competent staff so that you can do your own testing of electrical equipment in low risk environments.
What does a PAT test involve?
The PAT testing procedure first involves determining the risk of portable equipment and cables. Some factors to consider during the initial risk assessment include the type of equipment, the age of the equipment, frequency of use and the working environment (e.g. wet, dry or dusty). Surfaces which are good electrical conductors will increase the risk of receiving an electrical shock and impact the risk assessment. The findings of the risk assessment will determine the appropriate maintenance schedule for the equipment and the safety testing frequency.
Visual checks can be performed by competent people such as members of staff and will determine if the portable appliances or their cables and plugs are damaged. Some other factors to look for are loose parts or screws and evidence of overheating. Visual inspections should also apply to extension leads, plugs and sockets.
Following the visual inspection, PAT testing will use testing equipment to look for faults such as loss of earth integrity, deterioration of insulation resistance, integrity and contamination of internal and external surfaces.
How often is PAT testing required?
Whilst there is no legal requirement to how frequently appliances should be PAT tested, the risk assessment will determine how frequently they should be inspected and tested. For example, office equipment or domestic appliances might be PAT tested once a year whereas construction equipment might be PAT tested monthly.
What PAT testing equipment is needed?
Different types of appliance testers exist depending on the equipment being inspected and their operating environment. PAT testing kits range from basic to advanced depending on your requirements. PAT testers are usually portable and can connect to the tested appliance to measure insulation, earth continuity and predictive conductor current.
Appliances which have passed the test can be labelled with PAT testing stickers but this is not a legal requirement. PAT testing labels, a PAT register and test certificate can also be useful for maintenance purposes.
In summary, whilst PAT testing is not a legal responsibility of employers and landlords it contributes to their duty to maintain electrical equipment which can cause injury. An initial risk assessment will determine how frequently PAT tests should be performed and by who. Visual inspections can be performed by competent members of staff whereas PAT tester kits need to be used by electrically competent people. PAT testing is a great way for managing risk and maintaining safety and in particular can help landlords with other electrical legal requirements such as electrical inspection condition reports.
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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.