PAT Testing: What is it?

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Electricians will regularly conduct PAT testing as part of their usual working rhythm and routine. It is therefore a key skill-set for electrical professionals to have. In simple terms, PAT testing involves the checking of electrical appliances, by undertaking various visual inspections and testing activities.

This article intends to provide an overview of PAT testing, which includes reference to testing procedures, best practice, and safety considerations. Given the frequency of this form of testing in the electrical sector, it’s vital that candidates grasp its key principles and importance.

Key importance

Indeed, PAT Testing is the preferred industry method to make sure that everyday electrical appliances can be deemed fit for use. This process of electrical examination is used in various contexts, and is therefore universally recognised as a valid safety approach. This will manifest in several ways. Landlords need to find out whether residential items are safe for tenant usage, office managers have a responsibility to understand whether workplace equipment is performing correctly, and project manager require assurance on the functionality of site power tools. All examples are commonly subjected to the industry-approved PAT testing process. This allows electrical workers, clients, and the public, to have peace of mind that appliances are working safely and correctly.

Training and qualifications

To ensure that testing is undertaken correctly, all checks should be conducted by a trained individual. This could be someone who has attended a domestic installers course, or alternatively a fully-qualified electrician. In this context, we refer to a fully-qualified professional as someone who has completed a Level 3 NVQ/AM2 in electrical instalment.

There are specific courses facilitated by a number of learning providers in relation to PAT testing. On successful completion, delegates are permitted to conduct this form of electrical testing in the field. Perhaps the most popular course(s) are the ones offered by the City and Guilds body. This organization specialises in the provision of skills and knowledge for students involved in a range of trades and disciplines. The C&G (City & Guilds) 2391-50 series offers candidates the opportunity to digest all key information connected to PAT testing.

The C&G 2391-51 course provides individuals with insight into Periodic Testing and Inspection. The C&G 2391-50 gives information on the Initial Verification and Certification stages of electrical installations. However, the C&G 2391-52 qualification, encompasses the content of both courses. Attending the amalgamated course, given its structure and general price plans, offers candidates a way to save time and money. This should always therefore be the preferred option amongst prospective delegates.

Additional considerations

However, for those on apprenticeships or commencing front-loaded training plans, there’s every chance that PAT testing will already be covered in amongst anticipated learning modules. Therefore, its worth checking your course information pack to see whether this will be duly covered off.

Lastly, please note that PAT courses are now complemented with guidance on a wider range of electrical equipment testing practices (EET). These forms of testing have been subjected to enhanced coverage since the latest course review, conducted in November 2020. Given increasing attention towards other EET-based methods, the ‘PAT testing’ part of the title will be soon dropped. This is because the term has become too specific to describe what is an all-encompassing course on electrical equipment testing.

Testing different grades of appliances

Most electrical safety faults can be detected through a visual inspection conducted by a trained professional. However, there are some defects which can only be realised through additional, physical testing. It is therefore crucial that both aspects are regularly performed. Qualified electricians will grade the level of risk per appliance, based on its usage and propensity to incur safety issues. They will then test accordingly. This is based on the class rating attributed to electrical items at the stage of manufacturing. These classifications are based on an appliances ability to mitigate against the dispensing of electric shocks to its users.

Class I equipment

Class I appliances are usually constructed with metal, and are objects such as irons, washing machines, and fridge/freezers. These items have two protection layers. One is the basic insulation of its wiring, and the other is the presence of an earth effective conductor. This insulation, made from plastic, can sometimes fail. In these cases, the earth effective conductor, or earth wiring, produces a fail-safe measure. This success of the earth wiring process is made possible by the way that electricity innately travels. It will always look to navigate its way to earth via the lowest resistance route. Therefore, earth cables are constructed with this mind.

Thus, if a person was to touch the metal casing of a Class I object, it would be of higher resistance than conditions within the earth cable. Therefore, as we know electricity moves towards the lowest resistance environment, the person would not experience in an electric shock. In these scenarios, the current is directed into the ground, subsequently blowing the connection, or pre-empting a power trip. This would therefore present no risk to the user.

Class II equipment

Class II appliances are equipped with two layers of protective insulation. Due to this extra precaution, the earth cabling contained in Class I items is not required as a safety contingency. Class II objects will have plastic casings, which forms this second level of electric shielding for the user. For example, these are appliances such as hedge trimmers, televisions, and photocopiers.

The size of the prise

PAT Testing is often seen as a lucrative endeavour for electrical companies and contractors. This is because of the frequency in which it is generally conducted. Workplace H&S guidance dictate that employers must ensure that electrical equipment and appliances are consistently safe for use. PAT testing allows employers to demonstrate that preventative measures are implemented to reduce the risk of employees contracting electrical shocks.

Due to this responsibility to make equipment safe for use, employers will usually hire trained professionals to execute testing. However, in theory, a locally competent person could carry out an assessment (there are no legal stipulations attached to PAT testing, more on this to follow). This scenario should be reserved for those conducting work in low-risk environments, who have limited numbers of well-used electrical appliances. This may allude to a sparsely populated and modest-sized commercial office block.

Given the scale of commercial buildings and offices across the UK, one can quickly see the scope of financial opportunity. The continued development of new technologies, and subsequent increased production of electrical equipment, serve to consolidate this huge revenue generator.

PAT testing reporting

Once PAT testing has been accordingly executed, a detailed report will be produced. This will document some key information alluding to the success of the assessments that have taken place. This should be shared with the client, with an explanation, if required, of any technical information contained in the documentation.

The report log will include:

  • A full inventory list of each appliance that has been tested. This will include the name, location, and description of the items assessed.
  • A complete set of test results from each appliance tested.
  • A complete list of failed appliances, and the reasons behind faults incurred.

Furthermore, it’s also likely that an appropriate PAT testing label will be applied to each appliance. These signs differ according to supplier and the level of information desired by the client. In most cases, this will detail whether the equipment has passed or failed, the date of inspection, and when the next test is due. This should also include a signature of the competently trained person who conducted the assessment, and may include their parent company’s contact details and credentials.

Local management responsibility

The report should be filed away by a site leadership representative for future internal or external auditing purposes. This also serves to demonstrate that management are accordingly reviewing PAT testing documentation.

On the report itself, the electrician should provide commentary on any suitable remedial action that should be taken as a result of the test. It is clearly important for teams to ensure this is delivered within an appropriate period of time.

The deployed labels also provide an effective management tool for establishing control in electrical maintenance regimes. These efficiently indicate when next test dates are due, and offer a line of accountability to the tester if faults arise at a later point. However, it’s important to note that the electrician who is PAT testing is only ever confirming that the electrical equipment was safe at the moment they conducted the test. It would be impossible, and not in the interests of colleague safety, to offer assurances beyond this point.

Electricians should also always encourage local stakeholders to maintain a basic level of vigilance in relation to their electronic appliances. Although PAT testing is the most effective way of ensuring equipment is fit for use, it clearly does not guarantee around the clock validation. By implementing simple, and regular, visual checks, equipment users can help reduce the chances of injury occurring. Most potential faults in electrical items can be determined by the naked eye, as there will be obvious damage to wiring or the unit itself. Keeping note of any concerns, and alerting trained professionals to a potential issue, can really help workplace teams to stay safe.

Legislative guidance (or lack of it)

Given the acknowledged importance of PAT testing, there are occasionally some myths that develop as a result of elevated concerns. As is often the case when discussing health and safety practices, the frequency of its implementation can often escalate based on nervousness and misinformation. It is sometimes stated that it is compulsory to PAT test all electrical equipment, within every calendar year. This is not correct. Although it is best practice to conduct routinely, there is no legal obligation to perform any number of PAT tests, within any timescale, on any given appliance. There is also no reference to who can assess electrical equipment.

However, appropriate legislation is clear on its views towards the condition of electrical equipment in working environments. The Electricity at Work Regulations of 1989, state that any appliance which has the means of causing harm to the user must be kept safe and fit for purpose. Therefore, a fixed PAT testing routine is highly recommended.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the same assessment schedule should be applied to each item. Trained electricians are able to advise on the frequency and rigorousness of testing required. This is largely based on the type of appliance, its usage, and the environment in which it is most commonly deployed. For example, a floor cleaning machine used on a daily basis will be most likely subjected to more intensive testing practices than a bedside lamp in a hotel room.

When to deploy a professional

As suggested, those items that are rarely used and present extremely little risk, such as a printer in a low-capacity office, may be suitable enough to be simply visually tested by a competent staff member. However, for assurance purposes, it’s best practice to have these individuals appropriately trained by a qualified electrician beforehand. If unsure, the HSE does offer guidance on this, and specifically reference instances where full PAT testing is preferable.

Any items exposed to ‘combined’ assessment i.e., visual inspection and physical testing, should always be examined by a professional. A substantial level of training is required to understand which equipment is needed to perform tests, how to competently deploy it. Individuals also need to be upskilled in order to capably analyse the results produced.

Specific guidance

There are some situations where PAT testing becomes an unavoidable necessity on a particularly frequent basis. An example of this is would be those operating tool hire businesses. Due to the consistent use of machinery, and the lack of assurance on how this equipment has been deployed during hire, it’s critical that more regular testing takes place. Ideally, appropriate testing should be initiated after each tool is returned. It is also the responsibility of the equipment user to flag any known issues before its arrival back to the hire centre.

Summary

Hopefully this article has provided you with a detailed insight into the practices, purpose, and regularity of PAT testing. The key thing to remember is that these assessments are only deployed to determine whether an electrical appliance is safe for use. It should not be conducted for the sake of demonstrating an increased level of vigilance. Provided the environment is low risk, and the equipment is relatively well-maintained, there is no need to perform assessments in accordance to a pre-determined schedule.

Similarly, for those items that require increased attention, it would be dangerous subjecting them to a low-frequency checking timetable. Electronic appliances that are regularly used, and are susceptible to misuse, should be examined more frequently.

Furthermore, if it is decided that a local employee can offer testing solutions, then make sure they are thoroughly trained by a qualified electrician. They should never carry out ‘combined’ testing activity, or, for that matter, any other electrical assessment they are not trained to do!

If you’re currently training to be a qualified electrician, ensure that you receive the relevant training to PAT test electrical equipment compliantly. This is a great source of income, and is set to become even more lucrative given current marketplace conditions.

If you require further information on workplace PAT testing, or are ever in doubt about its importance, please visit the HSE website for more information. You may also want to discuss this in more detail with your course tutor, or a qualified industry professional.