Is PAT Testing a Legal Requirement?
PAT, or portable appliance testing is, for many, a blurry issue. In legal black and white, PAT testing itself is not a legal requirement. In a private, residential setting, one can keep electrical appliances regardless of their condition, and not have to ensure that they work properly (however, if something were to go wrong and cause an accident, the onus would be on the user to explain why such an appliance was being used.) But in a work environment, there is a requirement for employers to demonstrate that the equipment that they are using is safe and legal to use. This includes the self-employed, even if working as a sole trader. In legal speak, any electrical appliances used for work purposes (even the coffee pot in the kitchen) needs to be safe, compliant and fit for use. This is where PAT testing comes in.
So Why PAT Test?
PAT testing, whilst not legally required as a protective step, is considered by many government bodies and legal entities to be the benchmark by which an appliance can be tested and deemed fit for use. The Health and Safety Executive advice that all appliances must be tested as fit for use, but they do not say what constitutes an effective check. PAT is, quite simply, the demonstration that an employer has checked the appliance and deems it suitable, and can demonstrate that these checks have been effective and had a positive outcome.
This testing can take many forms, however, recommended steps include:
Hiring an electrician or qualified PAT tester (many safety companies offer a PAT testing course for prospective testers)
Visually checking new appliances
Purchasing electrical test equipment (including voltage and surge meters)
Put quite plainly, if the employer feels that they can justify steps taken, then they have performed a success PAT test.
What Can Companies Do?
There are many companies in the UK today that will contact companies to advise them that a specific type of testing must be undertaken to comply with the law. This is simply not true. Similarly, the notion that PAT testing must be undertaken annually is a myth. Indeed, the HSE’s own website informs companies that it is up to them to ensure PAT testing is effective. If an appliance is stored away for two to three years and is in a safe, dry environment, then there may be no need to test it every 12 months (although this will certainly do no harm.)
Many larger companies will bring in external testers to perform rounds of PAT testing which can take days or weeks to complete if working in a large building. Employees may see electricians applying stickers to their computer monitors and be under the impression that these are qualified PAT testers; however, there is no such thing. What many companies consider the bare minimum as a precautionary measure is to hire a qualified electrician to effectively give their opinion that the appliances in the building are safe (and in many cases, insurance companies will stipulate as a requirement that the electrical testing is performed by a qualified electrician.)
So in summary, as long as an employer takes a common sense approach, and can document this, they have fulfilled their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related legislation.
It is important to note, as well, that this requirement for testing also applies to landlords in order to protect their tenants, but similarly, the law does not state what constitutes a compliant check. In common sense terms, a visual check upon commencement of a tenancy and precursory checks during it, if documented, are sufficient.
What If I Don’t Bother with PAT Testing?
It is a requirement for appliances to be tested. Failure to carry out sufficient checks breaches:
Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974
The Electricity at Work Regulations of 1989
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations of 1998
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations of 1999
Penalties can be financial (it is not unusual to receive a fine of £5000, and sometimes in excess of £20,000) and in severe cases, offenders have received prison sentences exceeding two years in addition to fines.
If an untested appliance leads to the death of an employee, the person responsible for testing can be charged with corporate manslaughter, as well as causing the company to be shut down whilst investigations are carried out. Furthermore, insurance policies may be invalidated.
Again, whilst testing is a requirement, what constitutes the test is open to interpretation. As a best practice measure, is generally advised to hire a qualified electrician to not only perform the tests but provide comprehensive documentation, as well as safe destruction of any unsafe appliances. The cost may be higher but both the company and employees are much safer as a result.