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Mar 22, 2017
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The Importance of Thorough (PAT) Portable Appliance Testing

Why cheaper, faster solutions are a recipe for disaster

If you own and run a business with numerous employees that use a number of portable electrical appliances, PAT inspections are not something to be ignored and should be one of your top maintenance concerns at regular intervals. It goes without saying that safeguarding your team from potential electrical disasters is paramount and any neglect can lead to serious incidents or injury, not to mention potential lawsuits and loss of business.

According to The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the duty holder must ensure that “All systems shall be maintained so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, danger”.

The above statement is however, merely a guideline to demonstrate a means to an end, and provides effective proof that regular maintenance was carried out, should the need arise. Strangely enough, there is no actual law that enforces regular inspection and testing of portable electrical items to be carried out at all, only that precautions were made which is a very grey area.

Because of this ambiguity, the industry has recently given rise to a number of cheaper PAT testing offerings and what’s more concerning, a downward slide in the quality and standard of work carried out with notable shortcuts being taken. As tempting as they may seem, cheap PAT testing is not for the faint hearted.

Typical shortcuts seen in recent times

Sadly, we read and hear of many stories of PAT testing carried out that is either sloppy, dangerous and simply incorrect.

The equipment used to test appliances by most standards is not the concern. What most business owners do not realise is the greater importance of visually inspecting appliances which by many cheaper, quicker offerings tend to overlook.

Just by our own observations having checked electrical equipment over they years, we have repeatedly seen a number of concerning incidents of:

  • PAT engineers writing and sticking labels to items without any testing at all
  • non-portable hard-wired items inappropriately affixed with PAT labels
  • sealed plug tops (where fitted) not being removed
  • wrong size fuses fitted to plugs
  • detachable appliances not separately inspected or tested
  • old PAT test labels not being removed causing confusion

One of the key reasons for these alarming developments is the fact that many PAT engineers are paid on a “fixed fee per item tested” basis and thus, only serves to lead them to rushing the testing process to cram as many tests in at any given time.

In such scenarios, quality control and due care and attention gets overlooked. This is a worrying development.

What is an even greater concern is some PAT inspection product manufacturers are now producing testing equipment that they claim can carry out up to 500 tests in a single day. During a standard 8 hour shift, that’s an average of one product tested every 57 seconds which by all accounts, shows a testing rate at a frantically alarming pace that will only lead to sloppiness and basic safety oversights.

If shortly after, that equipment proves to be faulty and leads to a fire or electrocution, regulation 4 (2) of The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 will have been breached, because danger has clearly arisen.

As the business owner, it is your complete and absolute responsibility to ensure adequate maintenance of all portable electrical items and in such circumstances, that responsibility does not pass to anyone else who supposedly carries out preventative maintenance. So in the case of an accident, all of those in the chain could be liable to prosecution.

How often should I test my electrical equipment?

The duty holder is responsible for setting up regular maintenance schedules. These vary depending on the type of business or organisation you run. The following test intervals should be applied for guidance only:

Environment

Frequency

Industrial / Workshops
Commercial (Normal & Class I)
Commercial (Low Risk & Class II)
Every 6 months
Every 12 months
Every 24 months or more

Take PAT Testing seriously

The fact is, there’s never a time to compromise on safety no matter the cost. PAT testing should be carried out methodically and regularly on all equipment by an experienced and knowledgeable engineer who knows the typical faults and issues to look for that may deem your equipment to be dangerous.

PAT testing equipment alone will only tell you that the said appliance is functioning correctly however, the essential visual inspection will give a greater insight into whether the equipment is safe to use and presents no potential dangers to those who regularly rely on them to carry out their duties.

So next time you are offered an attractively priced PAT testing package that seems almost too good to be true, perhaps it is. Ask questions about the thoroughness of the tests they carry out and ensure you are satisfied they are doing everything necessary to deem your electrical equipment to be safe to use.

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