Electrical safety of portable electrical equipment & Portable Appliance Test (PAT)
The particular legal requirements relating to the use and maintenance of electrical equipment are contained in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EWR). These apply to all work activities and place requirements on employers, self-employed and employees (duty holders). The EWR are enforced either by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) or by Local Authority environmental health officers, depending on what usually goes on at the premises. Almost all places of entertainment need a licence from the Local Authority. There will usually be requirements for fire precautions and these can also include conditions relating to electrical safety.
The EWR require that certain safety objectives be achieved and do not prescribe the measures to be taken. This allows the duty holder to select precautions appropriate to the risk, rather than having those imposed which may not be relevant to a particular work activity. Everybody working with or on electrical equipment (even if they are self-employed) comes within the scope of the EWR. Please note that the testing of electrical equipment should always be carried out by a 'competent person'.
Portable or fixed equipment
The term 'portable' appliance is not defined in the EWR but may be regarded as covering equipment designed to be carried from place to place and connected to a fixed power supply by a flexible lead and plug — for example, an amplifier.
The reason for distinguishing between portable and fixed equipment is that the electrical connections to portable equipment — for example, the mains plug, flexible cable and terminals — are likely to be subject to more wear and tear than those on the equipment which forms part of the fixed installation.
Inspection and Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)
Maintenance is a general term which, in practice, can include visual inspection, testing, repair and replacement. Maintenance will determine whether (a) the equipment is fully serviceable or (b) remedial action is necessary. There are no absolute rules regarding the frequency of PAT testing.
The Health & Safety Executive's guidance notes advise 'regular testing' and this is generally interpreted to mean annual testing by a 'competent person'. However, conditions of use will vary and more frequent testing may be necessary. This will depend on the type of use, the nature of the working environment and how much wear and tear the equipment receives. If there are any signs of damage or poor electrical standards, the equipment should not be used until it is made safe.
Any MU member who does not feel that he or she is competent to carry out a Portable Appliance Test (PAT) should enlist the services of a competent electrician. To prove you have complied with the EWR, keep full and accurate records of test results and equipment details.
If a number of pieces of equipment or extension leads are involved, then a register of all equipment should be created to include the following details:
- identification number
- description of appliance
- serial number
- period between tests
Any certification of equipment should show the tests undertaken and the results obtained. For further guidance, visit the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/electricity.