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PAT TESTING THE FACTS

It may surprise you to know that there is no law that actually states that your appliances have to be PAT tested, however there are a whole range of laws and guidelines that place a responsibility and duty of care on employers and the self-employed etc. to ensure their work places are safe and their electrical appliances are safe and properly maintained.

The best way of doing this is to have them properly inspected and tested by a competent person, either in house or by an outside contractor.

Likewise, there are no actual laws that state how often appliances should be tested but there are guidelines, depending on the environment in which equipment is used and its construction.

For instance, equipment on a building site should be inspected and tested more often than equipment in a shop or office. Appliances that are hand held are more prone to suffer damage and faults than say a fridge that is rarely moved.

It may also be a requirement of Business Insurance companies that appliances are tested at certain intervals.

It’s a sad fact that PAT testing has become a very competitive market, prices have fallen steeply over the last few years with some companies falling over themselves to charge less than their competitors. Unfortunately, this is not always good news from the safety aspect. Let us take a look at what is involved.

To PAT test an appliance correctly a good visual inspection must precede any electrical testing. These are some of the faults a PAT tester will be looking for. :-

The tester must first identify the type and class of appliance being tested whether it is earthed or double insulated. The plug should have insulated live and neutral pins and confirm to BS1363 standard. It should show no signs of damage or overheating. The top should be removed if possible, the connections checked that they are correctly wired and secure. The fuse must be the correct rating for the appliance, show no signs of overheating and have the ASTA mark on it to show quality and BS1362 standard. The cable from the plug to appliance must be of the correct core size and be examined along its entire length for damage and be securely attached to the plug and appliance. The appliance casing itself should be examined for damage and contamination by excessive dust, water or grease. The on and off switch should also appear to function correctly. Only if all this appears in order can the electrical testing then be carried out.

The type of tests depends on the class and type of appliance. Class I (earthed) appliances require the earth to be tested. All items of any class require either an insulation or leakage test. Other appliances such as extension cables or IEC (kettle) leads require a polarity test. Great care must be taken in the case of IT equipment, to ensure that no damage is done by applying excessive current (or voltage for some older equipment) during testing. There may also be calculations required to interpret the test results for appliances with long cables. Some modern and top of the range testing equipment can do some of the calculations and supply safeguards for some tests but as you can see PAT testing requires a fair degree of knowledge and competency on the part of the tester to be performed correctly.

We then come on to the paperwork and certification. A good PAT tester will also supply the customer with a list of their appliances showing the test result readings, this is not law but good practice. These figures may not mean a lot to the owner of the business but to a health and safety inspector or a court could make the difference between proving all reasonable precautions have been taken or negligence. Even after the testing is complete the owner or manager (Duty Holder) is still liable for any accidents. So in this day and age a green sticker with a date on it, stuck on a kettle could well prove insufficient. The person performing the test can only certify the safety of an appliance at the time of the test, they have no control as to what may happen to that item after the test.

I advocate that the maximum number of appliances a competent person can test properly in an hour may be as little as ten to fifteen, especially if they are not easily accessible and not in close proximity to each other.

A PAT tester should have a certificate of calibration for their test equipment renewable each year and public liability insurance, plus carry an ample supply of plugs, fuses and labels etc. You must draw your own conclusions as to whether a cheaper service meets your needs under Health and Safety.

It may interest you to know that many appliances such as mobile phones, some computer screens, printers etc. to name but a few, do not run on mains voltage and therefore do not need to be tested. It is their chargers and adapters that ought to be tested and labelled. A green pass sticker stuck on a laptop computer that runs on say 19 volts is completely meaningless. I have even heard of some companies running around waving a mobile phone over appliances or saying their testing machine can see inside a plug to check the fuse etc., I know technology’s good nowadays but there is no application or program that can take the place of a good visual inspection and proper testing.

I hope this page has given a brief insight into what is involved during inspection and testing if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

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