As the name suggests, portable appliance testing (PAT) examines portable electrical appliances and equipment to check for any safety defects that can lead to health and safety incidents such as fires and electrocutions.
HSE recommends conducting routine PAT testing to ensure that any electrical equipment is in working condition for businesses. This is particularly important in the workplace, where employees handle all kinds of electrical equipment daily. According to HSE figures, approximately 1000 electrical accidents at work are reported yearly; 25 involve fatalities. PAT testing goes a long way towards preventing these accidents.
Yet despite appearing to be a straightforward topic, PAT testing can be a tricky issue surrounded by several myths — some spread by PAT testing businesses. We put to rest some of these misconceptions below.
When most people think of the word “portable,” we typically picture something small enough to be carried by hand. And so, some businesses tend to make the mistake of thinking that PAT testing applies only to small appliances.
However, a portable appliance is any piece of electrical equipment you can plug into a wall socket (i.e., mains power) or power generator. This means that mobile devices range from a personal computer to a copy machine to power tools and certain types of industrial equipment.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 only requires employers to ensure that any electrical equipment that could cause injury is maintained safely to prevent injury or damage to property.
However, the Regulations do not mention PAT testing or any other specific type of testing. HSE recommends taking a risk-based approach to inspecting equipment, considering the type, how often it’s used and what it’s being used for.
You may have seen PAT testing businesses claim that electrical appliances need to be inspected every 12 months. But that’s not exactly true.
As HSE explains, the “frequency of inspection and testing depends upon the type of equipment and the environment it is used in.” For instance, power tools used on construction job sites need to be inspected more frequently than, say, an office printer that’s used just a few times a week.
No. HSE only specifies that the person doing testing work is “competent” enough to do it. A reasonably competent staff member can conduct visual inspections in low-risk environments like offices according to PAT testing guidelines. However, it’s not a bad idea for a specific employee to undergo a basic PAT testing course.
However, more thorough inspections and testing, mainly when industrial equipment is involved, will require greater knowledge and experience. This is where the services of PAT testing companies or electricians come in.
Labels are great at preventing confusion and serving as reminders to have equipment tested. But they’re not a legal requirement, despite what PAT testing businesses (some of whom may charge extra for labels) will say. Your company doesn’t have to maintain a meticulous record of these tests either, although that isn’t to say that labels and records are bad.
Again, HSE guidance prevails — a risk-based approach to PAT testing means knowing when to have equipment tested and why. That could mean having a record of your tests and system indicating which appliances have been tested.