Portable appliance testing, or PAT testing, is an electrical appliance health and safety procedure that involves completing a series of electronic tests and visual assessments. It ensures that electrical equipment remains safe to use and reduces the risk of accidents such as electric shocks or electrical burns.
Most people use a large number of different electrical appliances in their day to day lives, the malfunction of which could have serious or even life-threatening consequences. Whether at home or in the workplace, ensuring that all electrical appliances are safe and fully functional is an essential part of health and safety that must be carried out by a qualified PAT tester.
The majority of electricians are qualified PAT testers, with many specialising in certain types of industry testing. However, you do not have to be an electrician to qualify as a PAT tester, meaning that anyone can train, learn and carry out PAT tests legally if they are capable.
From role specifications to legal requirements, here’s our guide on how to become a PAT tester.
A PAT test assesses the safety of a portable electronic appliance to ensure that it is safe to use. It is the responsibility of a PAT tester to carry out all the appropriate health and safety checks required for an electrical appliance and to ensure that the safety of the appliance is maintained over time.
Basic electrical defects can often be spotted with just a visual inspection of a portable appliance, but some faults can only be detected through more complex testing. Whilst most people will be able to spot if there is something obviously wrong with the external components of an electrical appliance, PAT testers are required to check the inner workings of equipment and to check that it stays safe to use.
Anybody can carry out PAT testing as long as they have completed appropriate training which has given them enough knowledge and practical experience to be considered competent. A ‘competent’ individual is defined by the following in the Institute of Engineering and Technology Code of Practice, 3rd edition:
If you are testing equipment in a low-risk environment, someone with a good level of electrical knowledge and training can carry out visual inspections and deem whether an appliance is safe to use. However, an official PAT tester will be required for an appliance that needs a combined inspection and test as this requires specific equipment and the ability to use it.
In order to receive PAT testing qualifications, you will need to complete a PAT tester course. This is available from a wide range of providers, some of which require previous electrical experience to qualify as an official PAT tester.
One of the most important PAT testing regulations is what appliances actually need to be tested. A ‘portable appliance’ is defined as any electrical equipment that is not part of a fixed installation and instead needs to be connected to a generator or fixed installation. If an appliance needs to be plugged in to function, it probably qualifies for PAT testing.
PAT tests require three different levels of checks to assess whether an appliance is safe. The test begins with a user check, moves on to a formal visual inspection, and then involves a combined inspection and test.
A user check is the most basic safety check in PAT testing and can be done by anyone who uses electrical appliances. It simply involves inspecting the external casing, plug and wire of an electrical appliance before you use it to ensure that there are no obvious faults present.
Most people have likely done a user check of an electrical device without realising it, simply by looking at an appliance before turning it on and confirming that there are no obvious faults. However, you will be able to make a more informed judgement if you have a basic understanding of what to look out for and know how to spot evidence of faulty wiring or electrical burn marks.
At this stage of a PAT test, a tester will look out for obvious wiring or plug damage, signs that the appliance has been overheating and any damage to the outer casing. If any of these features are present, the equipment will need to be either repaired or replaced.
Whilst the first stage of a PAT test can be completed by most people, PAT tester training will provide the knowledge and experience to then complete a formal visual inspection. Not only does this step require a more detailed understanding of electronics, but it also involves reading the appliance’s instructions so that you know what the inner workings are supposed to look like and can spot any internal faults.
Formal training is required for this stage of a PAT test as it often involves taking apart pieces of equipment and sometimes having to repair electrical circuits or components. A PAT tester will also have to assess whether an appliance is being used correctly and whether there are any signs of future problems, which requires complex industry knowledge and a higher level of experience.
Faults that might be identified at this stage of PAT testing include loose terminal screws, fuses in the wrong place, signs of overheating or water damage and wires connected to the wrong terminals.
The final stage of PAT testing requires specialist equipment, knowledge and experience that can only be gained by completing a PAT testing qualification. PAT test equipment will be used to assess the parts of an appliance that cannot be visually assessed, such as its insulation and internal integrity.
The type of appliance that is being tested will dictate what tests are carried out and what other equipment is required. These may include earth bond tests, earth leakage tests and insulation tests, all of which require training to be able to correctly complete and interpret the results.
Three different equipment classifications within PAT testing requirements dictate what test sequence should be used. These are:
Whilst PAT testing itself is not a legal requirement, there are many pieces of legislation that affect the maintenance of portable electronic appliances and strongly recommend that equipment must be PAT tested.
The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires workplace employers and self-employed business owners to ensure that all equipment that is used on the premises is safe and will not harm employees or the general public. There is no specific legal requirement that states PAT testing has to be carried out; instead, it is the employer’s responsibility to decide the best way to ensure all appliances are safe.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) built on the Health and Safety at Work Act, enforcing the idea that employers should keep their staff safe and gives guidance on what health and safety steps should be taken. Ensuring that appliances are PAT tested when necessary should be a part of the company health and safety policy, as this will prevent any dangerous faults from going undetected.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (1998) specifically state that any electrical appliances that are used at work must be kept in good working order and repaired. The best way to ensure this is through PAT testing, which shows compliance with the legislation and keeps all equipment in a safe condition.
Finally, the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989) requires employers to assess the risks that their employees are under whilst at work and take the necessary steps to remove or reduce any dangers. It also states that systems should be maintained so that they do not become dangerous to use and pose a risk to employees, and PAT testing is the best way to ensure that all electrical systems and appliances are maintained safely.
There are no set guidelines for how frequently you should PAT test equipment because different circumstances require different levels of testing. Factors that will affect how frequently PAT testing needs to be carried out include how frequently the appliance is used, the classification of the appliance and whether the appliance frequently obtains damage.
Detailed recommendations are available online for how frequently appliances should be tested depending on the industry they belong to.
In order to adhere to the health and safety regulations that apply to PAT testing, the person who carries out the test must have appropriate training. Training courses often come with a type of qualification at the end of them, along with the relevant knowledge that makes you suitable for completing a PAT test, but there is no official required qualification.
Different appliances require testing after different amounts of time between testing, so there is no official length of time that a PAT test certification is considered ‘valid’ for. A simple rule is that the ‘safe’ status granted by a PAT test is valid until an appliance is no longer safe to use or until the specified period of time has passed until another PAT test is required.
PAT testing is an essential part of electrical device health and safety, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities where the skills of a PAT tester are required. Whether you are already an electrician who is looking to expand their skill set or an employer or landlord who would like to be able to conduct their own PAT tests, it’s a very valuable skill to have that ensures that any users of portable electrical appliances are kept safe.
If you’d like to become a qualified PAT tester, you can start with our ‘How to Carry Out Portable Appliance Testing’ online course which is suitable for anyone who is working towards a PAT testing qualification or completing a portable appliance testing course.