PAT testing is an essential part of maintaining the safety of a wide range of electrical equipment. Everything from the computers used in workplaces to the appliances we have in our kitchen at home can require regular PAT testing to ensure that those who use them aren’t at risk from any electrical malfunctions.
Because PAT testing is a series of checks done to assess whether an appliance is unsafe, carrying out these tests can be dangerous. A risk assessment is required before every new kind of PAT test to ensure that the tester carries out the process safely and any potential hazards have been recognised and can be avoided where possible.
This article explains what is involved in a PAT test and then takes you through all of the stages required to complete a risk assessment for PAT testing.
A portable appliance test, or ‘PAT’ test, is a kind of safety evaluation that gauges whether a piece of electrical equipment is safe to use. PAT tests detect whether portable appliances have any external or internal issues that could cause harm to the people around them, and allow electricians to either fix the problem or dispose of the equipment.
Many of the appliances that require PAT testing are ones that many of us use frequently in our day to day lives. Testing these appliances regularly means that the likelihood of receiving an electric shock or burn from a piece of faulty equipment is minimised, providing peace of mind to the user.
Fixing or replacing faulty electrical appliances is also important because they can damage wider electrical systems. Without PAT testing, electrical circuits can be fused or tripped which can then damage other appliances and machinery.
Any piece of electrical equipment that is not part of a fixed installation and is instead connected to a wall socket or generator requires regular PAT testing. It is a process that poses certain risks to the person carrying out the checks, which is why a risk assessment is required before a PAT test can be completed.
In order to complete a comprehensive PAT testing risk assessment, you will need to understand the three stages involved in a PAT test. These are; a user check, a formal visual inspection, and a combined inspection and test.
Anyone can carry out a user check of a portable appliance. Many of us likely do this whenever we use one without even realising it.
A user check involves visually inspecting the external casing, wire and plug of a portable appliance before you use it. This is to check for any obvious faults, such as cracks in the casing or wire coating, exposed wires, burn marks or problems with the plug.
You don’t need a lot of specialist knowledge to complete a user check, as most people immediately notice when an appliance looks faulty on the outside. However, it can be useful to have basic knowledge of what common faults in portable appliances look like.
The next stage of a PAT test requires more technical knowledge to complete a thorough visual inspection of the external and internal components of the appliance. You will need to know how to take a variety of appliances apart and how to tell if any of their internal components look damaged or faulty.
At this stage of the test, the appliance manual should be consulted to offer more comprehensive guidance on what the internal wiring should look like, to help identify any faults. You will also need to know how to safely dismantle and rebuild electrical equipment, along with being able to rewire plugs or tighten screws.
To finish a PAT test, the final stage involves using specialist PAT testing equipment to assess the parts of the appliance that cannot be assessed using visual checks. This usually includes testing appliance insulation and general internal integrity and can only be completed by someone who is a qualified and experienced PAT tester.
Numerous tests may be required of one appliance using this official equipment, depending on its size and the power of the electricity supply it is connected to.
A PAT testing risk assessment follows the same basic structure as any risk assessment. There are five main stages involved.
The first stage of any risk assessment involves identifying the potential hazards that are going to be present in the environment where action or work is going to take place. In the case of a PAT testing procedure, this will involve assessing the hazards present within the equipment being tested, but also the environment where the testing is going to take place.
First, think about the appliances that will require testing. Consider how they could be damaged or faulty and the way that this could present a potential hazard. Also consider whether the appliance could still be dangerous even if it is in perfect working condition, and note down all of these possibilities.
Then, consider where the PAT test will be carried out. If this is in a workplace you are familiar with then identifying hazards will be easy, whereas if you are travelling somewhere new to carry out the tests, you may need more information about the environment and what other people or equipment you may be around.
The location of each of these hazards should be noted down, along with details of the risk that is present.
Once all potential hazards in the PAT testing procedure have been identified, you then need to establish who may be harmed by each of these. In most cases, the main person at risk will be the PAT tester themselves, but depending on where the tests are carried out, others may also need to be included in the risk assessment.
If other people are going to be around you whilst conducting the PAT test, make a note of whether they could be at risk of harm during the testing, even if the likelihood of this is very low. If an appliance is faulty and could damage the electrical system it is connected to then it poses a risk to others using equipment and appliances in this system, so this will need to be considered as well.
After you have recorded the potential hazards and who could be affected by them, the next stage in a PAT testing risk assessment is to calculate the probability of the risk occurring and how much damage it could potentially cause. These two values can be used to assess which hazards are most likely to happen and which are the most dangerous, giving you a clear list of priorities when it comes to taking preventative action.
After establishing priorities, the next and most important stage of a risk assessment is to determine what you are doing to avoid, reduce or remove these risks from happening. This may involve following different procedures, using certain safety equipment or completing the test in a safe space.
After action has been taken, you can then recalculate how likely each risk is and the impact it might have. If these predictions are much safer, then you can carry on to the next stage of the risk assessment. If a significant risk is still present, further action needs to be taken to remove or reduce this.
Once all hazards have been assessed and preventative measures have been put in place, you will need to complete an official record of this risk assessment for PAT testing. This usually just involves writing up all of the previous stages in a clear and concise format, ensuring that your actions are easy to understand.
This record needs to be kept somewhere where it can be accessed at any time. It can also be a good idea to keep a copy with you so that you can consult it before following PAT testing requirements to ensure you stay safe.
Simply completing a PAT test once isn’t the end of the process. In order to remain relevant and continue to protect the PAT tester and those around them, a risk assessment must be regularly reviewed and updated. This means that it will always be up to date, guaranteeing the highest level of safety for those involved.
A PAT test risk assessment should be updated every time something in the PAT testing procedure changes, such as using new equipment or testing a new kind of appliance. If anyone is injured during a PAT test, the risk assessment should also be reviewed to determine if this could have been avoided and if so then the assessment should be updated to avoid repeat injury in the future.
There is no official, legal guidance on how often PAT testing should be completed, as legislation only states that electrical items should be maintained and kept safe for use. Unofficial guidance has been issued that takes into account how long most portable appliances take before they need repairing or become unsafe, which ranges from three months to four years.
The only official guidance for PAT testing simply states that a ‘competent person’ should carry out the test. This just means that whoever is performing the test must have an understanding of what they are doing and what is required, along with the relevant technical skills to perform it safely.
Most electricians are qualified to carry out PAT tests, and there are plenty of companies who hire out qualified experts to come and complete them as well. Anyone can undertake the necessary training to become a competent PAT tester, but it can often be faster to hire someone else to do it for you.
As the name suggests, the items that require PAT testing are portable appliances. These appliances have flexible cables and a plug that is connected to a wall socket or generator, such as computers, kettles, microwaves and electric tools.
Interacting with any kind of electrical equipment carries a significant risk, and whilst most PAT testers never obtain any kind of injury from their work, there are several significant risks present. Completing a risk assessment ensures that you are prepared for the possibility of these risks and means that safety measures will be put in place before any testing occurs, reducing the likelihood of any harm.
For more information on what is required in the PAT testing process, we offer a comprehensive online ‘PAT Testing Course’ that provides all the background you need to work towards an official PAT testing qualification.