There are many common myths about portable appliance testing (PAT) - find out the key facts about the inspection and testing of portable electrical equipment here.
Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Most electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. However, it is essential to understand that visual examination is an essential part of the process because some types of electrical safety defect can't be detected by testing alone.
A relatively brief user check (based upon simple training and perhaps assisted by the use of a brief checklist) can be a very useful part of any electrical maintenance regime. However, more formal visual inspection and testing by a competent person may also be required at appropriate intervals, depending upon the type of equipment and the environment in which it is used
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition. However, the Regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently (ie they don't make inspection or testing of electrical appliances a legal requirement, nor do they make it a legal requirement to undertake this annually).
The frequency of inspection and testing depends upon the type of equipment and the environment it is used in. For example, a power tool used on a construction site should be examined more frequently than a lamp in a hotel bedroom. For guidance on suggested frequencies of inspection and testing, see: Maintaining portable and transportable electrical equipment.
There is no legal requirement to label equipment that has been inspected or tested, nor is there a requirement to keep records of these activities. However, a record and / or labelling can be a useful management tool for monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the maintenance scheme – and to demonstrate that a scheme exists.
New equipment should be supplied in a safe condition and not require a formal portable appliance inspection or test. However, a simple visual check is recommended to verify the item is not damaged.
The person doing testing work needs to competent to do it. In many low-risk environments, a sensible (competent) member of staff can undertake visual inspections if they have enough knowledge and training. However, when undertaking combined inspection and testing, a greater level of knowledge and experience is needed, and the person will need:
Information is also available in: Work using electrically powered equipment.
It is strongly recommended that equipment suppliers formally inspect and test the equipment before each hire, in order to ensure it is safe to use. The person hiring the equipment should also take appropriate steps to ensure it remains safe to use throughout the hire period. The question 'What is portable appliance testing?' above gives guidance on what this will entail.
A high street travel agency thought about what it needed to do to maintain its portable electrical equipment. As their work generally included office work and dealing with customers the manager considered that health and safety risks would be generally low. The portable electrical equipment was used in a clean and dry shop by a small number of employees. In deciding what action was needed:
In 2011, the HSE reviewed its approach to portable appliance maintenance in its own offices. Thinking about the type of equipment in use, and how it was used, the HSE looked back at the results from its annual testing of portable appliances across its estate over the last five years. Using the results of the previous tests, the HSE decided that further portable appliance tests are not needed within the foreseeable future or at all for certain types of portable equipment. Also, they decided to continue to monitor any faults reported as a result of user checks and visual inspections and review its maintenance system if evidence suggests that it needs revising. Electrical equipment will continue to be maintained by a series of user checks and visual inspections by staff that have had some training.
No. The law simply requires an employer to ensure that their electrical equipment is maintained in order to prevent danger. It does not say how this should be done or how often. Employers should take a risk-based approach, considering the type of equipment and what it is being used for. If it is used regularly and moved a lot e.g. a floor cleaner or a kettle, testing (along with visual checks) can be an important part of an effective maintenance regime giving employers confidence that they are doing what is necessary to help them meet their legal duties. HSE provides guidance on how to maintain equipment including the use of PAT.
Subscribe to HSE's electrical safety eBulletin - includes email notifications when this page is updated