Electrical appliance testing

What is electrical appliance testing?

All electrical appliances have the potential to cause electrical shock or present a fire hazard. In the UK, 5 deaths and more than 500 injuries are caused annually by faulty electrical installations in the home. Electrical appliance testing ensures that electrical faults are identified, which means that potential hazards can be removed to ensure electrical safety in the home or workplace. Electrical appliance testing is commonly referred to as “portable appliance testing” or PAT, and differs from electrical installation testing, which concerns the fixed electrics in your home/place of work rather than individual, movable items of electrical equipment. A portable appliance can be defined as one which can be relocated between periods of use, and is connected via a cable to an electrical power supply.

While it's at the discretion of the homeowner whether to carry out electrical appliance testing, it is a requirement of the Health and Safety At Work Regulations that electrical appliances in the workplace comply with the requirements of The Electricity At Work Regulations 1989.

Why should I employ a professional to carry out the testing?

There are three good reasons to employ a professional:

Save time

A team of experienced electrical engineers will be able to carry out electrical appliance testing far quicker than you yourself. Just think how many appliances are in your home or office – PCs, telephones, printers, photo-copiers, kettles...the list goes on and on.

Peace of mind

By employing a professional to test your electrical appliances, you can be sure of knowing if these present any hazards. Should anything go wrong, you will have access to a formal complaints procedure.

Legal protection

A contractor should issue you with a guarantee, which provides proof that you have carried out electrical testing and therefore complied with Health and Safety regulations. This may be particularly useful in the event of an insurance claim.

When do I need to employ an electrical appliance tester?

The frequency of testing depends upon the appliance itself and the working environment in which it is used. Very high risk environments would include construction sites, while a domestic residence would be low risk. There is no legally defined schedule for testing. Frequency and intensity of use should also be taken into account when drawing up a testing schedule, which a PAT professional can help you with.

If you are a landlord, it is recommended that you test appliances each time the tenants change, following a change of use of the premises and when the property is first being prepared to be let out. If you are a tenant, be aware that your landlord is responsible for PAT in the property.

How do I find a qualified contractor?

The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting acts as the regulatory body for electrical safety matters in the UK . Over 10,500 contractors have approved status, and there is likely to be one operating in your area. You can locate an Approved Contractor by searching the Roll of Approved Contractors using your postcode, or by searching for a specific name. Alternatively, you can verify whether an electrician in your area is sufficiently competent to carry out work by searching the on line register of the Local Authority Building Control.

What questions should I ask before work starts?

Quantify how many appliances need to be inspected and tested. Establish a time frame and cost quote for the work. Contractors will typically be able to test 15-25 appliances per hour, depending on the environment and access issues.

  • Does the contractor employ fully trained and qualified electricians? It is preferable for employees to hold a City and Guilds certificate in Portable Appliance Testing.
  • Is the contractor enrolled with the NICEIC or the Institution of Electrical Technology (IET) - the industry body that advises the government on PAT testing policy?
  • Does the contractor have public liability insurance?
  • Will you receive a guarantee for the work, a certificate of Electrical Safety and an inspection report?
  • What is covered by your quote? Is any necessary remedial action included in the price?

How much will it cost?

Specialist equipment is needed to carry out electrical appliance testing A DIY approach may seem attractive, and it certainly does no harm to carry out visual inspections yourself, but it can be a false economy.

A PAT tester can be hired for approximately £50-70 per week, which would allow you to test the appliances in a household quite adequately. If you have many electrical items or run a business from your property (and thus have a statutory duty to protect employees from potential injury), then a DIY approach is less suitable. Testing may be needed every three months on some items, so you would need to fund the cost of hiring or buying PAT Testing Equipment (£350 - £900 to buy) and attending a PAT course (typical fee of £250 + VAT). Add to this the time taken to actually carry out the testing and you could be looking at double the cost of employing a contractor.

A customer with 400 electrical items would expect to pay around £1000 annually for electrical testing. Many companies offer on-line or over-the-phone quotes. Pick a PAT tester that meets your needs – some will be happy to carry out testing for a single household while others offer lower prices but require a minimum volume of appliances.

The cost of remedial action – if a dangerous or faulty appliance is discovered – may add to this cost. The problem most frequently discovered by an electrician, however, is a loose connection. While this can lead to electrical fires or electric shock, it is also very quick and easy to put right, and will barely increase costs.

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