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The PAT Myth

PAT Testing, or Portable Appliance Testing, is one of the biggest areas of folklore in Heath & Safety legislation. Let’s start with the misuse of the term ‘PAT Testing’; since the T is already for ‘Testing’, its nonsense to call it ‘Portable Appliance Testing Testing’, but that’s what most people do.

On many Testing Provider websites, you will find statements such as :

All portable electrical equipment must be tested and serviceable for its intended use.

or

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations , the Electricity at Work Regulations , the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, all place a statutory responsibility on Employers to ensure that their portable electrical equipment is safe to use. This means all portable appliances at your place of work have to be regularly tested to ensure they are safe.

Are these statements true? Phone Charger Image

Well to a point, but that’s like asking a Politician to give a straight answer to an interviewer’s question, and when did you ever see or hear that happen?

Because it’s true that All Portable Electrical Equipment must be safe to use, as must all other electrical installations, but ‘must be tested’ is not true.
And all those Acts and Regulations they quote do require equipment to be safe for use; but they do not mandate any specific testing regime.

PAT has it’s place, along with all other health and safety requirements, but it has in some environments become a licence to print money, extorting testing fees from small business owners.

 

A Genuine Example

A small business owner I know received a call from a national PAT company, telling him he needed to have all his equipment tested and they would be in his area the following Wednesday. He told them he didn’t want anything testing and not to call. As it happened, the following Wednesday he wasn’t at the premises when an  ‘engineer’ called and told the assistant that he had come to test all the electrical equipment as per the appointment her boss had made.

Some 20 minutes later, the ‘engineer’ departed, having found nothing amiss and leaving an invoice for £120; after testing around a dozen items.

As you can imagine, the business owner was somewhat annoyed and complained to the company, but also consulted the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. They advised him not to pay as he had given clear instructions for nobody to call.

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After making it clear to the company that their engineer had carried out work which they has been expressly denied authority to undertake, and that he was willing to take legal action against them if they persisted, the business owner heard no more from them.

 
The Law is quite clear on this matter, all equipment used in the workplace must be fit for purpose. In the case of electrical equipment, this includes a suitable level of maintenance to prevent electric shock. But there is no Law that dictates any specific testing regime.

Practical examples.

 

A Desktop IT System.

It’s unpacked from the boxes; you examine the Tower, the Monitor, the cables the other items such as keyboard and speakers and find nothing damaged so you assemble it. all the cables are neatly stowed out of harms way, where feet and chairs won’t come into contact with them.

If it stays like that, there’s no reason why it can’t be used without any testing for several years, possibly even until it gets replaced, due to the need for greater computing power.

A Kettle

Again, when first unpacked, it is reasonable to assume it is fit for purpose. Depending how it is used will dictate the need for periodic checks, not necessarily testing. In a benign environment, a simple visual inspection could suffice every 6 or 12 months with a Test every 2 years. However, place it in a harsh environment, where it could be abused and the Test might be required every few months.

A Vacuum Cleaner

Given the potential for users to run over the trailing flex, or perhaps catch it under furniture, this will require more detailed consideration. Again, perfectly fine to place it into use with a visual inspection but depending on the usage, it might be advisable to have a formal Test carried out every 12 or 24 months, more frequently if in a high usage environment such as a hotel.

Electrical Tools from a Hire Company

These items, due to their diverse environments and circumstances of use, outside the control of the owner, should be subjected to an instrumented test before every issue, with the results recorded. This will enable any gradual breakdown in insulation or other developing problems, to be highlighted.

Further information is available in HSE publications HSG107 and INDG236

If you would like Belvoir Safety Services to provide you with assistance in interpreting these requirements for your business, please contact us.

 

Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.