PAT Testing Explained

Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal requirement to have the electrical equipment in either the workplace or, in the case of any landlord or company-supplied electrical equipment in rented accommodation or residential care homes etc., PAT Tested*. However, as we shall see, it is indeed a legal requirement that such electrical equipment, and in particular the items being used in the workplace are, in simple terms, 'safe, well-maintained and suitable for the purpose for which it is being used' - at all times. It is not the inspection and testing that is the legal requirement, but the fact that the electrical equipment, at all times, must be 'safe, well-maintained and suitable for the purpose for which it is being used'. And the penalties for non-compliance can be severe: in certain cases, unlimited fines and imprisonment, not to mention the harm done to someone in the event of a serious electric shock, or the damage done to property in the case of a fire (more than 2,500 people are either killed or injured as a result of electrical fires in the UK every year, and more than thirty people are directly killed by electric shock).

The only way that we can determine whether electrical equipment is 'safe, well-maintained and suitable for the purpose for which it is being used' (the legal requirement), is if it is routinely, formally visually-inspected and instrument-tested ('PAT Tested'). Therefore, PAT Testing is implicit in the need to ensure that such equipment, at the time of the inspection and testing at least, is indeed 'safe, well-maintained and suitable for the purpose for which it is being used'. Look across the room now at a piece of electrical equipment, perhaps a computer, water cooler, toaster, fridge, etc. Can you tell if its earth wire is internally in contact with the exposed metal work? How good is the insulation? What state are the wires inside the plug? Are the live and neutral wires reversed at either the plug end or inside the appliance? (the appliance would still function with 'reversed polarity', but it is potentially very dangerous). Is that slight shock that you and your colleagues get from that fridge several times a week really just static? Without formal visual inspection and testing, how can we know if equipment is safe, whether it needs to be repaired or disposed of, or otherwise appropriately dealt with? In other words, whether it is compliant with legislation.

*NB. There is just one exception to this: Regulation 6 of The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) requires that equipment has to be 'inspected' in work situations where the safety of the equipment depends specifically on the installation conditions, and, in particular, where conditions are liable to lead to deterioration. This is a very specific requirement, for a very specific situation, and yet even here, there is no mention of the word 'testing'.