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What Is PAT Testing And Why Is It Important?

Updated on December 20, 2013

Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is a process carried out in the UK by electricians to ensure the maintenance and safety of electrical appliances in line with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Electricity at Work Act 1990. Whilst neither pieces of legislation explicitly oblige PAT inspections of electrical appliances, evidence of regular PAT is widely regarded as proof of the necessary maintenance and safety inspection.

In order to comply with the two acts, a company is obliged to maintain its electrical appliances in order to prevent danger to persons on site, whether they are employees, customers or visitors. Regular inspections must be carried out by a competent person on each of the electrical appliances. It should be noted that these tests do not apply to residential or private properties.

There is extensive guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET, not to be confused with the Institute of Engineering and Technology) on exactly how regularly PAT inspections should be carried out. The time interval is largely governed by the environment within which the appliance is operating. Construction equipment, for example, should be tested every three months whilst appliances in schools and offices on the other hand can be tested annually.

A competent person is defined by the IET as someone who has ‘adequate knowledge of electricity, experience of electrical work and understanding of the system to be worked on’ as well as an understanding of the potential hazards and health and safety issues that can arise from working with a specific electrical appliance. This definition means PAT testing can largely be carried out in-house by a suitably trained electrician. The Level 3 Certificate for the Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment is widely regarded as a suitable qualification to demonstrate sufficient competence, although this is not explicitly defined in any health and safety regulation.

There are usually two parts to a PAT test to ensure the safety of an electrical appliance. Firstly, a visual inspection will often be sufficient to detect obvious safety hazards such as cracks in the plug or frayed cables. The most important part of the PAT test is the electrical inspection. Depending on the type of appliance and its class a number of electrical inspections may be carried out, including earth resistance testing, polarity checks and applied current testing.

1. Is PAT a legal requirement?

The Electricity at Work Regulations specify that electrical equipment must be maintained in a safe condition. There is no legislation that obliges companies to have their electrical appliances PAT tested although failure to do so could land them on the wrong side of the law.

Regular PAT testing is a method of ensuring that a company’s electrical appliances are well maintained in order to minimise the chance of employees, customers or other site visitors falling victim to faulty or damaged electrical equipment.

2. How often should appliances be tested?

Again, there is no legal obligation to PAT test equipment and specified intervals. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) do recommend intervals of between 3 months and a year for most industrial electrical appliances.

The nature of the appliance and the environment it is operated will dictate how frequently a company should PAT test it. Appliances used in the construction industry for example should be examined and tested every 3 months.

3. Who can carry out a PAT test?

Legislation dictates that inspections should be carried out by a competent person, defined as someone who understands the appliance, has the ability to use the test equipment properly and the ability to understand the results of the tests. This can be done in house if a member of staff has been given suitable training.

The City and Guilds Level 3 Certificate for In-Service Inspections and Testing of Electrical Equipment is the most widely recognised and accepted PAT qualification although others do exist.

4. Must records be kept of PAT tests?

Again, whilst there is no legislation that explicitly obliges a company to keep records of their electrical appliance inspections, it is extremely advisable to do so for two reasons.

Firstly, maintaining detailed records allows future inspectors to quickly identify existing or previous faults that have occurred with an appliance. Secondly, if an accident were to occur, detailed records can help protect a company in the case of litigation or civil proceedings.

5. Exactly what should a company PAT test?

Often, simple visual inspections of most low risk electrical appliances are sufficient in the workplace. Portage electrical equipment, however, must be maintained to minimise the risk of an accident occurring. Any medium to high risk appliances should be PAT tested regularly, usually in intervals of between 3 months and 1 year.

The class of electrical appliance will determine exactly what tests it should be subject to. For more information visit the HSE website.

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