HSE PAT Testing – Practical Guidance
Under the following legislation and Health and Safety Executive guidance, legal responsibilities are placed on employers to ensure the safety is maintained within the workplace:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Within these health and safety guidelines, there is a requirement that all electrical appliances and equipment in the workplace be maintained to a safe standard to reduce the risk of harm or danger to employees and the wider public.
While Portable Appliance (PAT) testing is not in itself a legal requirement, it is regarded by the HSE as the most effective way to ensure the safety of electrical appliances and equipment.
What is PAT Testing?
Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the regular safety examination of portable electrical appliances and equipment, using visual inspection and specialist testing equipment.
A portable appliance is generally understood to be an electrical item that can be easily moved and has a plug attached, or that can be attached (such as a charging lead for a mobile phone), for power supply.
HSE PAT Testing: Who is responsible for electrical appliance and equipment safety at work?
The employer is responsible to ensure that all work-related electrical appliances and equipment are maintained to a safe standard as part of their overall health and safety obligation.
Even where the employer appoints an individual to be the ‘competent person’ overseeing the safety of the electrical appliances and equipment, the employer may still be held responsible should an incident occur.
HSE PAT Testing: How often should PAT testing be carried out?
There are no set rules on how often PAT testing should take place. The related legislation simply requires that all electrical appliances and equipment are safe and that the frequency of testing and inspection is in correlation with the level of risk those items pose should they fail.
This risk any electrical appliance or equipment carries can be arrived at by considering the level of risk involved in the workplace itself, the electrical class of the item, and the category of the item.
Examples of the risk level involved in different work environments include:
- Offices, retail units and hotels – low risk
- Schools and hospitals – low to medium risk
- Industrial buildings (factories and workshops, for instance) – medium risk
- Gyms – high risk
- Construction sites – extremely high risk
The electrical classes and categories are outlined below under ‘Categorising electrical appliances and equipment’.
When deciding on the frequency of PAT testing, it is also advised to consider any manufacturer’s recommendations, how old the item is, how often it’s used, any potential misuse of the item, whether the item has been repaired or altered, and the item’s individual history.
HSE Pat Testing: Who should carry out PAT testing?
Where the item and workplace are low risk, any responsible and competent person may carry out the PAT testing.
However, where the work environment is medium or high risk and the inspection likely to be complicated, perhaps because of the specific electrical appliance or equipment, it is recommended that the PAT testing is carried out by a suitably experienced and qualified person.
Whoever carries out the PAT testing should have:
- a suitable level of knowledge about electricity
- a suitable level of electrical work experience
- an awareness of how to carry out a visual inspection of an electrical item
- an awareness of how to carry out a PAT test using the specific testing equipment
- an understanding of any related hazard when carrying out a PAT test and what precautions to take
- the ability to come to a decision on whether an item has passed PAT testing
Where a member of staff will carry out PAT testing, there are PAT testing courses available, and it will be necessary to purchase or rent the PAT testing equipment.
HSE PAT Testing: Categorising electrical appliances and equipment
There are 3 classes of electrical appliances and equipment for the purpose of PAT testing:
- Class 1 appliances which have basic insulation and rely on earthing for protection, such as photocopiers, desktop computers and freezers
- Class 2 appliances which have extra insulation and are safer than Class 1 appliances because they do not merely rely on earthing for protection, such as desktop printers, lamps and televisions
- Class 3 appliances which are low voltage and as such the safest category, although this does not include the related charging leads. This category covers items such as laptops and cameras.
Further to this, electrical appliances and equipment are further categorised into fixed items, stationary items, I.T. equipment, moveable items, portable items, cables and chargers, and handheld items, with each category carrying its own risk level.
Fixed, stationary and I.T electrical items are generally low risk. PAT testing will generally not be required for fixed items, although regular visual inspections are still recommended.
Moveable electrical appliances and equipment, items that generally remains in one place but can be moved if needed, carry a low to medium risk.
Portable items, those intended to be moved while attached to a power supply, and cables and chargers are all medium risk.
The only high risk category is handheld electrical items such as electrical drills and hair dryers.
HSE PAT Testing records
Employers are not legally required to keep records of any PAT testing, but such records can prove useful as part of your ongoing health and safety records.
Where an incident happens as a result of a faulty electrical item, being able to demonstrate that you have done all you can to ensure that your equipment is safe can prove incredibly helpful.
HSE PAT Testing: Labelling PAT tested items
It is not a legal requirement to label an electrical appliance or piece of equipment once it has passed a PAT test, however, this can again be used to demonstrate the employer’s commitment to upholding health and safety in the workplace.
PAT testing for new equipment
It is not necessary to carry out a PAT test on new electrical appliances and equipment, although it is always recommended to carry out a visual inspection of any new items coming into the workplace to ensure they are intact and undamaged.
PAT testing for rented electrical appliances and equipment
Where you rent out electrical appliances and equipment to customers, it is your responsibility to ensure that all items provided are safe for use.
Examples of this would be a company that rents out lawnmowers and digging vehicles to customers, or a landlord who provides the white goods in a property that he rents outs to tenants.
It is recommended that you carry out a PAT test on any electrical item before you rent it out on each occasion, so in the examples above, before each lawnmower is handed over to a customer or before a new tenant moves into a property.
During the rental period, the customer bears a responsibility to use the item safely and reasonably maintain its condition.
Although carrying out a PAT test each time you rent out an item may seem excessive, this is the best way to ensure that:
- the electrical items are safe
- customers and other parties will not be harmed by the electrical items
- you will not face prosecution for harm caused by faulty electrical items that you have supplied
Penalties for unsafe electrical appliances and equipment
Where an employer does not maintain health and safety standards in the workplace, including the maintenance of work-related electrical appliances and equipment in a safe condition, the result may be prosecution, unlimited fines and in certain serious scenarios, up to 2 years’ imprisonment.
With the threat of such serious penalties, and the hazardous consequences of faulty electrical equipment, the phrase ‘better safe than sorry’ has never been more true.
Do you need help with PAT testing?
Compliance with regulations will ensure you maintain a safe working environment, with managed risk of harm or injury.
Working with electrical engineers experienced in testing procedures can help you approach and discharge your duties under law efficiently and cost-effectively, resulting in minimal impact on your operations.
At Emelec, we conduct PAT testing in all types of environment, from commercial, industrial and leisure through to retail and residential. For help and advice with your PAT testing, contact Emelec’s team of specialist electrical engineers.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute direct advice.