What is PAT Testing
Portable appliance testing (commonly known as "PAT", "PAT inspection" or "PAT testing" is the name of a process in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, by which electrical appliances are routinely checked for safety. The formal term for the process is "in-service inspection & testing of electrical equipment". Testing involves a visual inspection of the equipment and any flexible cables for good condition, and also where required, verification of earthing (grounding) continuity, and a test of the soundness of insulation between the current carrying parts, and any exposed metal that may be touched. The formal limits for pass/fail of these electrical tests vary somewhat depending on the category of equipment being tested.
User check: This informs the use or any potential danger signs, and an appliance can fail on this check i.e. a frayed cable can be marked as ‘not safe to use’.
Formal visual Inspection: This is a simple process of visually inspection all of the appliance, cable and plug for obvious faults, including the fuse and wiring of the plug should be tested.
Combined Inspections and PAT testing: This is the main test, that involves the PAT testing equipment. This determines if the device is safe to use on the ‘class of construction’ i.e. Class 1, Class 2 and so forth.
Health and safety regulations require that electrical appliances are safe and maintained to prevent harm to workers. Many equipment manufacturers recommend testing at regular intervals to ensure continual safety; the interval between tests depending on both the type of appliance and the environment in which it is to be used. The European Low Voltage Directive governs the manufacture or importation of electrical appliances. Compliance to this has to be declared and indicated by the display of the CE mark on the product. The responsibility for this lies with the manufacturer or the importer and is policed by Trading Standards.
Testing equipment has been specifically developed for PAT inspections, based on the testing equipment used by manufacturers to ensure compliance with the British Standard Code of Practice and European product standards relevant to that type of appliance. This in turn allows testing and the interpretation of results to be de-skilled to a large extent. The inspection of the appliances can largely be carried out in-house in many organisations. This can result in cost savings and more flexibility as to exactly when a PAT is carried out.
British law (the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989) requires that all electrical systems (including electrical appliances) are maintained (so far as is reasonably practicable) to prevent danger. Private houses are not covered by this legislation, although occupiers' liability requires householders not to deliberately expose occupants or visitors to unreasonable risks. The HSE and the local authority are responsible for the policing of this legislation.
Fixed wiring in buildings
Guidance from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET, published under the IEE brand) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that a competent person must inspect the installation regularly in any public building or a place that people work. They suggest initial intervals for combined inspection and testing that range from three months (for construction equipment) to one year, and in many cases, longer periods for re-testing (certain types of appliance in schools, hotels, offices and shops).
Although the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 is an obligation on UK businesses, there is no obligation to undertake PAT inspection. In reality neither act nor their corresponding regulations and associated statutory instruments detail PAT inspection as an obligation, but rather impose a requirement of maintenance of safety and evidence of routine maintenance for all hand-held, portable and plug-in equipment.
Today a great many private companies and other organizations do meet their legal obligations to protect their workers by an enforced PAT regime, but it is not the only route.
Recent HSE publications have relaxed their tone somewhat to acknowledge this, and now point out that in many situations annual PAT is disproportionate to the risks and is often not required. 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.
Annual portable appliance testing is not always necessary in low risk environments. You do not need to be qualified as an electrician to carry out visual inspections. Regular user checks and visual inspections can be a good method of maintaining portable electric equipment. For landlords maintaining legal requirements it is not compulsory for them to have all appliances tested, but they do need to show a "duty of care" and most letting agents recommend that a test certificate is obtained.