PAT: Portable Appliance Testing
The HSE estimates that 20 to 25 people a year are killed and around 1,000 injured as a result of electrically related incidents in the workplace.
Whether these accidents involve ‘fixed’ electrical systems such as wall sockets, lighting circuits or hard wired heavy machinery or ‘portable’ electrical appliances such as kettles, heaters, tools or IT equipment is not clear. What is obvious is that under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, employers must maintain their electrical equipment to prevent danger.
Malcolm Wallace of Safetest Electrical provides some expert guidance:
The recognised method of maintaining Fixed Electrical Systems is by way of the ‘Periodic Inspection’. This is a very detailed inspection performed every five years or so depending on the size and type of installation and carried out by one or a team of qualified electricians.
The recognised method of maintaining Portable Electrical Systems (Appliances) is by way of the Portable Appliance Test or ‘PAT Test’. PAT testing can be carried out by any trained responsible person, either ‘in house’, when there is the man hours and test equipment available; or if not, sub-contracted, usually to a specialist PAT testing company.
PAT testing consists of a number of tests on every appliance, after which, if the appliance passes all the tests, it is labelled and the test result details are formally recorded.
How often a PAT test needs to be carried out depends on the type of appliance and the environment in which it is used. A computer in an office is tested less often than a drill in a workshop, but frequency should be decided as a result of risk assessment and test results.
The most important test is the Formal Visual Inspection, which checks all the physical elements; wiring, damage, functions, interlocks etc. Other checks use test equipment to find problems that cannot be seen, such as faulty insulation or protective conductor. A simple kettle with a broken protective conductor could become potentially lethal if the heating element breaks down.
Only use external companies in recognised trade organisations, such as the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), or who have achieved Standard ISO 9002, external auditing of performance.