In this article
Every year around 1,000 workplace accidents involving burns or electric shock are reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Unfortunately, approximately 30 of these accidents will be fatal, with most of these arising from contact with underground or overhead cables.
However, faulty electrical appliances can be just as dangerous; they can lead to fires and also non-fatal shocks, which can result in permanent and severe injuries. In the UK electrical fires account for around 33% of accidental fires in the workplace. Electrical accidents may often lead to secondary injuries too, for example a fall from a ladder or any height following a shock can cause further injury.
The types of injury that may occur from faulty electrical equipment include:
- Shock – If wiring or equipment is not properly grounded, shocks can occur when a person makes direct contact.
- Burns – These have the potential to cause severe disfigurement and can be extremely serious and damaging. Burns injuries generally occur in the feet and hands as this is where the current enters and leaves the person’s body.
- Electrocution – Electrocution can be fatal. If equipment is poorly installed or insulated it may result in electrocution.
- Falls – If a shock happens when using electrical equipment at height, secondary injuries such as head injuries or broken or fractured bones may occur, and some falls may be fatal.
To mitigate the risks of these accidents occurring, there are precautions that businesses need to take to prevent danger from portable or movable electrical equipment, and these can include PAT testing.
What is PAT testing?
PAT stands for portable appliance testing and is the term used to describe the routine examination and inspection of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure that they are safe to use. Many electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. A PAT test involves a visual inspection to check the appliance casing and flex for wear or damage.
Plugs are also checked for damage, correct wiring and ensuring that the correct fuse rating is used. After the equipment has passed a visual inspection it will normally undergo a series of electrical tests using a fully calibrated electrical PAT tester.
A label will be attached to each appliance indicating the test results. Any item failing the tests will be easily identifiable and should be removed from service until repaired. You should record and retain the results of all PAT testing in an appliance register for future reference.
The purpose of PAT testing is to prevent electrical accidents in the workplace and in other environments where employees and/or members of the public may be at risk of being harmed.
These environments can include but are not limited to:
- Commercial premises including offices, retail, showrooms.
- Education including nurseries, schools, colleges, training venues.
- Hospitality including bars, restaurants, hotels, cafes.
- Medical including hospitals, clinics, care homes, GP and dental surgeries.
- Industrial including factories, garages, warehouses.
- Construction including sites, peripatetic trades personnel.
- Domestic rental properties including single bedsits, houses, flats, holiday rentals.
- Any other type of environment that is open to the public such as gyms, arcades with game machines, hairdressers etc.
What type of equipment should be PAT tested?
Broadly speaking, if the equipment uses a flexible wire or cable to connect to a power supply it qualifies as a portable appliance and needs to be checked. Electrical appliances are mainly categorised as Class 1, 2 or 3, with Class 1 being the most dangerous and Class 3 the least dangerous.
Class 1 appliances – This type of electrical equipment has only basic insulation and relies on an earth for protection.
The following appliances are usually (but not always) electrical Class 1; this is not an exhaustive list:
- Floor standing printers.
- Industrial machinery.
- Vending machines.
- Washing machines.
- Tumble dryers.
- Mobile phone chargers.
- Laptop cables.
- Extension leads.
Class 2 appliances – This type of electrical equipment has extra insulation and so does not rely on an earth for protection, which makes it safer.
The following appliances are usually (but not always) electrical Class 2; this is not an exhaustive list:
- Desktop printers.
- Lawn mowers.
- Food mixers/blenders.
- CD/DVD players.
- Hair straighteners.
Class 3 appliances – These appliances are low voltage items and are the safest class of electrical appliance and may not require PAT testing, however, their charging leads may need to be PAT tested.
The following appliances are electrical Class 3; this is not an exhaustive list:
- Mobile phone.
- Chargers for the above may be Class 1 or 2.
The frequency of PAT testing is determined by several factors. This includes the type of equipment and its classification, the frequency it is used and/or moved and the environment in which it is operating. PAT testing should be carried out at the very least, every two years; however, in some environments and with some categories of equipment this may need to be done every time the equipment is moved.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends taking the following into consideration as necessary:
- Manufacturer’s recommendations.
- The age of the equipment.
- Frequency of use of the equipment.
- Foreseeable misuse of the equipment.
- Effects of any modifications or repairs.
- The history of the item.
What the law says
UK legislation states that businesses must maintain electrical equipment in a safe condition. However, PAT testing is not, in itself, a legal requirement or obligation. UK businesses have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees and of the public.
These duties and responsibilities are set out for businesses in:
One of the most effective ways for businesses to prove that they have safely maintained electrical equipment is by certifying that their electrical appliances are PAT tested. This has become a standard way of businesses meeting this legal obligation and proving that they have done so.
Whilst there is no specific legal obligation to PAT test, many insurance companies will reject a claim should it be proven that a fire or accident occurred due to faulty electrical equipment that has not been properly maintained. The courts can also issue large fines or even imprisonment should a case of negligence or corporate manslaughter be brought forward citing faulty electrical equipment.
There are, however, new legal obligations for private landlords; this is called the Landlord Electrical Safety Certificate Legal Requirement. From 1st June 2020, private landlords in England must have the electrical installation in their rental properties checked by a qualified electrician to ensure that it is safe.
This means that:
- From 1st July 2020 electrical installations must have been inspected and tested by a qualified electrician prior to the start of a new tenancy.
- By 1st April 2021checks must have been carried out by a qualified electrician on any existing tenancies.
These checks must then be carried out on a five-yearly basis. If a landlord is found to not have complied with the law or if no attempt has been made to complete necessary remedial work that was identified, they could face a penalty fine of up to £30,000. At present, the Landlord Electrical Safety Certificate Legal Requirement does not extend to holiday lets.
Who is responsible for electrical appliance safety?
The business owner/employer is responsible for electrical appliance safety. In larger organisations a ‘competent person’ is often appointed by the employer, whose role is to make sure the organisation is compliant with electrical appliance safety; however, the ultimate responsibility for safety lies with the organisation’s directors.
Do I need PAT test Employees’ personal equipment?
In all the environments listed above, businesses have a duty of care to ensure that any appliance used on their premises is suitable for use within their environment and to also ensure the safety of any employees, visitors and the wider general public.
As stated above, there is no legal obligation to PAT test electrical equipment, however, if an employee is bringing in and using their own equipment on your premises in order to carry out your business, then you have a joint responsibility with your employee to maintain any equipment used by your employee for their job. This includes personal laptops, desk lighting, fans or any other electrical equipment they may use.
You should always be concerned whenever someone brings in an appliance to your premises.
This may include:
- Care home visitors.
- Trades personnel.
Their electrical equipment could, after all, be damaged and bring with it a risk of electrical shock or it could be the catalyst for a fire starting.
If a building fire is caused by a faulty appliance, your insurance company could invalidate its obligations to pay, particularly if you can’t prove that the appliance that started the fire or caused the shock to that person was tested. Many organisations insist that all electrical appliances, whoever owns them, are checked prior to being allowed on site.
When employees are working from home, employers still have a duty of care towards their employees. This means if you PAT test electrical equipment on your premises, you should extend this to home workers too. There are two ways of carrying out PAT testing for home workers. You can either arrange for a PAT tester to visit them at home or you can ask your employee to bring their equipment in for testing when they next come into your premises.
Can I PAT test my own equipment?
The short answer to this is yes, unless you are a private landlord, as their regulations state that the PAT testing must be carried out by a qualified electrician. At present in other environments, you don’t have to be a qualified electrician in order to PAT test. However, the person doing testing work needs to be competent to do it.
In many low-risk environments, a sensible and competent member of staff can undertake visual inspections of electrical equipment if they have enough knowledge and training. The HSE provides a guidance leaflet for testing in low-risk environments.
When undertaking combined inspections and testing, a greater level of knowledge and experience is needed, and the person will need:
- The right equipment to do the tests.
- The ability to use this test equipment properly.
- The ability to understand potential hazards and precautions to take when PAT testing.
- The ability to properly understand the test results.
For anyone deciding to do their own PAT testing, it is strongly recommended that they take a PAT testing course and gain a Certificate of Competence, as it is important to perform the PAT tests safely and correctly.
What is involved in a PAT test?
First, a visual inspection needs to be done to establish any major faults and the equipment, cable and its plug etc. must be inspected for any damage.
Next, check with the user about any defects they may have noticed or experienced, for example loosely connected plug casings or frayed or split cables. Determining these factors will depend on the type of electrical equipment, the equipment itself and its potential for risk.
Tests are then performed with regards to the earthing (grounding) continuity, the standard of insulation, and contact with exposed metal. The type of appliance that is being tested will dictate what tests are carried out and what testing equipment is required. To be able to correctly complete all of these tests and to interpret the results accurately, training will be required.
What do I need to become a PAT tester?
You should complete a PAT testing Certificate of Competence training course or complete the City & Guilds 2377-77 PAT training course. It is also recommended that you take regular refresher courses to keep up to date with regulations.
You will need PAT testing equipment, made specifically for ascertaining safety levels.
There are various types of testing equipment such as:
- PAT tester.
- Pass/Fail PAT tester.
- Advanced PAT tester.
- Computerised PAT tester.
- Dual Voltage PAT tester.
- Medical Safety tester.
Basic user-friendly PASS/FAIL testers are the most common variety for professional purposes. However, advanced PAT testers are favourable because they provide a considerable amount of additional data such as downloadable reports. Costs of the testing equipment start at around £100 and, depending on the complexity of the equipment required, it can cost over £4,000.
If you choose to use an accredited company to do the testing for you, their costs can vary between £1 and £3 per item to be tested.
The benefits of regular PAT testing
- Regular PAT tests can reduce the risk that electrical appliances pose to your business.
- Risk appropriate testing helps you comply with UK workplace regulations.
- PAT tests reduce the likelihood of an appliance catching fire or giving an electrical shock to the user.
- Regular PAT tests can save you money in the long term as repairs are often more cost effective than the replacement costs of an appliance.
- Regular PAT tests may help to keep your insurance premiums lower and avoid the risk of the insurance company deeming your policy void if you can’t prove your appliances are safe. When a claim is made in regard to any electrical accident involving portable appliances, without the appropriate PAT testing certificates, insurance companies may decline any claim. Check the requirements of your insurance policies, as many insurance companies expect you to get electrical appliances checked annually.
The decision on whether to do your own PAT testing or employ an accredited company to do it for you will probably be based on:
- The number of items to be tested.
- The regularity of the tests.
- The costs of training and testing equipment.
- The capability and availability of an appropriate person to carry out the testing.
Whichever you decide, do decide to PAT test.