Portable Appliance Testing, or PAT testing as it is often called, is the systematic checking of any equipment which has an electric plug. This testing involves visual checks, and combined inspection and testing using a PAT test meter in order to meet the requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations Act 1974
‘PAT’ doesn’t just include truly portable equipment; the scope is wider. It includes everything that is attached to the electrical wiring system. A drinks machine, for example, is classed as a ‘portable appliance’ as is a freezer cabinet or photocopier. The groupings used by the IET (the Institute of Engineering & Technology) include ‘stationary’, ‘IT’, ‘moveable’, ‘portable’ and ‘handheld’ – all are dealt with by PAT.
This broad bracket of included equipment means that PAT usually concerns large numbers of individual tests – often thousands. In an office, for example, it’s typical for each and every worker to have approximately seven portable appliances around them; from computers, to printers, faxes and fans. A computer, for example, can mean three or four tests and many people mistakenly count this as just one. Plus the workers themselves can have an impact on the electrical safety around them – which we’ll discuss later.
The relevant legislation, The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, states the imperative; ‘to maintain electrical systems as far as is reasonably practicable to prevent danger’. Making sense of what this requires and means in practice, it is useful to consider British Standard 7671 (17th Edition, 2008) which makes it clear that portable appliance testing must be conducted but doesn’t give specifics on ‘how’.
What must be proven is compliance with BS7671 (17th Edition) and this should include a system of recorded inspections and tests, undertaken by a ‘competent person’. This is defined as ‘a person who possesses sufficient technical knowledge, relevant practical skills and experience for the nature of the electrical work undertaken and is able at all times to prevent danger and, where appropriate, injury to him/herself and others’. In practice this means using a professional affiliated to an approved body such as the NICEIC (the electrical contracting industry’s independent voluntary body for electrical installation matters throughout the UK) and/or an individual qualified to C&G 2377.
To fulfil the duty holders responsibility and ensure compliance the HSE recommend that your first step is to assess the risk and this should be done by carrying out a risk assessment to:
- identify the hazards
- decide who might be harmed and how
- evaluate the risks arising from the hazards and decide whether existing precautions are adequate or whether more control measures should be taken
But, unless you’re a qualified electrician, how do you identify and judge the hazards? The easiest way to entirely fulfil your obligation as an employer is to get a qualified and unbiased expert to test the electrical wiring system in the building and the portable appliances within it.
- Test engineers are qualified to City & Guild 2377
- The supplier adequately monitors the compliance of test engineers on site
- Minor repairs will be included in the per-test price (plug top or fuse replacement, lead re-termination)
- Reporting is comprehensive, validated and swift/simple to access (web-based reporting is best)
- Public liability insurance is in place to underwrite their work (recommended £10m level)