Introduction to Portable Appliance Testing – PAT Test

Electrical safety is covered by the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989) which say employers have a responsibility to ensure all work which involves the use of electricity is done safely.

Essentially, employers must ‘control the risks’ involved in using electricity, especially the risks associated with using portable electric appliances. According to the law, these appliances must undergo regular portable appliance testing (PAT). Testing can only be done by what is described as a ‘competent person’.

Employer’s responsibilities

Employers can train some of their own staff to undertake PAT testing and maintenance work – or hire an electrical contractor to do the work instead. In either case, it remains the employer’s responsibility to:

  • set up a proper maintenance plan to keep portable electrical equipment in safe working order;
  • provide all staff using portable electrical appliances with training/information about safe working;
  • ensure PAT-tested equipment is properly labelled (tester/details/date);
  • keep proper records of all PAT inspections and tests;
  • take all faulty equipment, including any appliance which fails a test, out of service immediately, and repair and re-test where required before allowing appliances to be put back into use.

Portable Appliance Testing

1) Portable Equipment

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines portable equipment as: ‘equipment that is intended to be connected to a generator or fixed installation by means of a cable and either plug and socket or a spur box’. This also includes:

‘hand operated equipment that is intended to be moved while connected to the supply, appliances that have been fixed for security purposes (hair-dryers and hand dryers in changing rooms) and extension leads, plugs, sockets and cord sets that supply portable equipment’.

2) Inspection and testing

In PAT testing, these are two separate activities:

i) A thorough visual inspection, which checks for any signs of deterioration and damage; and/or

ii) A PAT-device test, where testing requirements depend on the appliance but always include at least an insulation test, and – if there is an earth – an earth continuity and leakage test. PAT electrical testing is always done using a calibrated PAT device’.

3) Risk Assessment

Whether equipment needs a visual inspection or must be PAT-device tested is decided by an employer’s risk assessment. This takes into account: the type of portable appliance, what the appliance is used for, and the location in which the appliance is to be used.

PAT inspection, testing and maintenance can only be tackled by a ‘competent person’ and must also include proper labelling and keeping test/inspection records.

4) Testing frequency

How often PAT testing must be done should also be clearly set out in the risk assessment, and be based on:

  • the type of portable appliance,
  • its electrical class (see below) and power rating,
  • the age of the appliance,
  • the manufacturers’ instructions,
  • who uses the appliance,
  • the frequency of use,
  • the location in which the appliance is used.

Whenever a fault is suspected but cannot be confirmed by just a visual inspection, a PAT test must be carried out. This also applies if the appliance has been repaired or modified, before it is returned into service.

5) Class I Equipment (Earthed)

This type of equipment has an earth wire and so, if an electrical fault develops and the earth wire becomes loose or detached, the equipment casing could suddenly become live and cause an electric shock. All earthed equipment is regarded as ‘high risk’ and must be PAT tested as often as laid down in the risk assessment.

Any extension lead is regarded as Class I equipment, and so must always be earthed and PAT-tested.

6) Class II Equipment (Double Insulated)

Class II equipment does not need an earth wire for electrical safety. If leads and plugs are seldom disturbed, and the appliance is used in a low-risk location, such as an office, then a visual inspection is required only once every 2-4 years – based on whether light or heavy use is involved.

However, Class II equipment intended for us by the public – especially children – might need a combined inspection and PAT test every 12 months if there is a strong risk of equipment damage.

More regular and frequent inspection and PAT testing will be necessary where Class II equipment is used in tough, challenging conditions, such as outdoors, or in workshops.

How often this is done is best decided by a ‘competent person’ who is familiar with the equipment and understands the legal requirements for portable appliance testing.

For more information on Potable Appliance Testing visit the official HSE website.

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