Self-Build PAT Testing – Everything You Need to Know

Electricity is an indispensable tool in any workplace, and without it, many tasks would be impossible to accomplish. But electricity can also be dangerous, specifically if incorrectly used or left unchecked.  Although the UK enjoys a high standard of safety in the workplace, accidents continue to happen.  In 2017/2018, three people died from electrical incidents, while 315 suffered severe injuries.  From 2014 to 2019, there were 19,300 accidental fires of electrical origin, with 3,667 of these caused by faulty appliances.

The UK has laws that protect workers and the general populace from electrical-related incidents in the workplace and other public venues, such as schools, hospitals, shops, and tenancies.  Whether you are a business owner, a landlord, or self-employed, you are responsible for overseeing that appliances and any equipment in your place are safe to use, not only for your protection but also for your customers, workers, visitors, tenants, and the public.  Failure to meet your legal obligations could result in payment of fines, or worse, imprisonment.

How do you make sure you comply with the legislation?  One way is to ensure that all electrical appliances and equipment are in good condition and well-maintained.  The most effective way to do this is through a PAT examination.  How is PAT done? How often should it be done? Could you do it yourself?  Read on to learn about the basics.

What is PAT testing? 

PAT stands for Portable Appliance Testing.  It is a regular inspection performed on electrical appliances and equipment to determine if they are safe to use.  The purpose of which is to minimize, if not entirely prevent, any electrical accidents.

In general, a portable appliance is anything that comes with a plug that goes into a wall outlet.  Therefore, the term portable is not limited to handheld items such as irons, vacuums, or hair dryers.  It also covers appliances that are not necessarily and easily carried around, including refrigerators, industrial machinery, and vending machines.

Should all electrical items be PAT tested, and how often?  There are seven categories of appliances considered for PAT testing: fixed, stationery, IT, movable, portable, cables and chargers, and handheld.  Fixed appliances are fastened to a wall or at a permanent location, while stationery items include fridges and washing machines.  IT involves business equipment, including PCs, laptops, printers, and photocopiers.  Movables weigh under 18kg and sit in one place, but can easily be transferred, such as televisions and microwaves.  Meanwhile, portable means items that move around while connected to an energy supply, such as vacuums.  Handheld appliances include electric drills, hairdryers, and hair straighteners.

Additionally, the appliances are divided further into three electrical classes according to how dangerous they are.  Class 1 appliances are the most hazardous because they only have ordinary insulation.  Class 2 items have extra insulation, so they are safer, while Class 3 products use low voltage, so they are the least dangerous.  Both category and an electrical class of an appliance determine whether or not it should undergo PAT checkup and how frequently.   More dangerous equipment is subject to more frequent inspection.

What are the Legal Requirements? 

The four key legislations that deal with employees’ safety are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Which of these laws implicitly says you should perform PAT testing? The answer is none. No regulation requires PAT testing. The legislation states that all businesses must ensure that their workers and visitors are safe while they are on the premises. The responsibility includes seeing to it that every electrical appliance and equipment in the place are secure to use. And this is where PAT testing comes in.

PAT testing is one of the most effective methods of maintaining and checking the condition of electrical items. The process is not a legal obligation. However, it is the best way to ensure you comply with the requirements established by law. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sets the safety standards for businesses and other institutions and expects them to perform PAT testing on electrical equipment and appliances as often as needed. Breach of the safety standards could mean up to two years in prison or as high as £30,000 in fines.

Who Can Do Pat Testing?

The legislation does not specify who can do PAT testing, only that the one doing it is a competent person.   A tester does not have even have to be an electrician.  So, can your business inspect the appliances on its own?  The answer is yes.

What can be considered a competent person?  The Institution of Electrical Engineers Code of Practice has some guidelines.  According to the code, the person should have adequate knowledge of electricity and experience in electrical work.  He or she should know how to carry out a visual and electrical test.  Furthermore, the individual should understand the potential dangers of PAT testing and the precautions to use.

If you want to do the inspection yourself, consider taking a PAT testing training course first to earn a certificate of competency.  The course typically includes the principles of electricity, legal requirements, identification of hazards, classification of electrical items, and how to utilize PAT testers.

What is involved in PAT Testing? 

Generally, PAT testing does not involve any fancy examinations. The test is pretty practical and straightforward and fundamentally based on common sense and good observation skills. The inspection has two types of tests, visual and electrical. Many appliances only need to undergo a visual inspection, while others require electrical testing using PAT testing equipment. Still, a few other items require a combination of both.

Visual testing involves physically inspecting an appliance for any problems, such as damage or cracks to the outer casing, frayed or worn power cords, defective or loose connections, and overheating. Electrical testing measures the degree of protection or insulation of an item and determines if the safety net is adequate. The procedure includes earth bond continuity test, low current continuity test, insulation test, differential leakage test, load test, polarity check, and flash testing.

The inspection also includes proper documentation, including a register of all equipment, a record of the tests conducted, a list of all faulty items, and a repair register. Upon the completion of the testing, you will receive a safety certificate. All items that underwent the inspection are labelled either passed or failed.