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PAT Testing

PAT Testing Risk Assessment Approach

As many of you know, the old adage that PAT testing must be carried out annually is a myth that has been spread by bad PAT testing companies looking to make more money out of you. Some businesses will test many of their items annually, some may be bound by a tenancy or lease agreement that specifies when to test the items. Many business will not have the luxury of such fixed rules, and the latest recommendation from the IET is to take a ‘risk assessment’ based approach to PAT test frequencies. How is a business owner or safety manager, with limited knowledge in this area supposed to make an informed judgement?

The IET publish their recommendations as to how often to re-test with each revision of their code of practice, and we’ve included that on our website for you here. These recommendations are to be used as a starting point for your risk assessment. From there, take each group of items you have, PCs, kettles, extension leads etc, and take the following items into consideration, and increase or decrease the frequency as required.

PAT Testing Risk Assessment – 10 Point Plan

1. Type of equipment – (Stationary, Information Technology, Portable, Moveable, Handheld).

2. Style of use – (infrequent, constant, rough).

3. Age of equipment.

4. Is the equipment moved or transported anywhere and by what means?

5. Type and competence of personnel using the equipment.

6. Environment of usage (outdoors, construction sites, hazardous atmospheres etc).

7. Results of previous test – if a particularly large number of appliances failed or required repair it might be worth increasing frequency until issues are solved.

8. Any recommendations by the manufacturer.

9. Effect of any modifications/repairs to the item.

10. Likelihood of user-checks taking place – many business we test put these in place with the best intentions, but the reality is they do get overlooked in many cases.

School PAT Testing

School PAT Testing

Finally, the summer is upon is. And I don’t just mean the weather. Children and teachers from all over the country are welcoming the start of the summer holidays. But it’s not fun for everyone involved; caretakers and estates managers are about to embark on one of the busiest periods of the year. The traditional 6-week break is the perfect time to get all the necessary maintenance work done, both from a practical aspect and a safety point of view.

All manner of trades will be busy over the next month and a half, desperately trying to get finished on time for the return of the academic year in September. Electrical work will be completed by electricians, commercial decorators will paint miles of walls and get through tens of thousands of litres of paint; but who will do the school PAT testing? The past decade has seen a rise in the amount of companies and organisations ‘in-sourcing’ – that is, no longer using a contractor and starting to perform certain tasks internally. But is this still a cost-effective method?

School PAT Testing

It boils down to the age-old theory of supply & demand. Organisations in-source = reduced demand. However this increased the demand for PAT training companies, which has left us with more people than ever who are deemed competent to provide PAT testing services. This increased supply coupled to the reduced demand lowered prices dramatically across the nation. Many companies are now paying less than half of what they were paying 5 or 6 years ago. Many companies we talk to who haven’t renegotiated their rates with their current provider for some time, are shocked at how much lower the rates are.

In-House PAT Testing Costs

Let’s run through an example and at the end hopefully you’ve got enough information to use your own figures and see if it’s a cost-effective solution for your school.

1. Fixed costs (one-off)

Training for 1 person – £300*

PAT Tester, tools & accessories – £400

*Please bare in mind that if the trained member of staff was to leave for another job, you may have to re-train another person.

2. Fixed costs (annual)

PAT Tester annual calibration – £40

3. Variable costs (per item)

Test label – £0.02

Fuses – £0.01**

**Based on a wholesale price of 10p per fuse. Approximately 1 in 10 replaced. Expect this to be higher for new IT equipment.

4. Labour costs

Per item, this will be your biggest variant. It depends on a number of factors:

  • Staff member salary – Average caretaker salary is believed to be £17-20,000 per annum, although some earn much more.
  • Overtime rate – If the staff member cannot perform PAT testing within their regular working week, you may be contracted to pay overtime rate.
  • Speed of staff member – An infrequent PAT tester would be expected to average around 12 items per hour, which could drop as low as 10 or rise as high as 15 with regular practice.

£18,500 ÷ 52 (weeks) ÷ 40 (hours per week) = £8.894 per hour (assuming no overtime or enhancements are payable)

£8.894 ÷ 12 (items per hour) = £0.74 per item (Labour only)

5. Total cost per item

Without overtime: Labour + Variable = £0.74 + £0.03 = £0.77 per item
With overtime (at time & 1/3rd): (Labour x 1 1/3) + Variable = £0.99 + £0.03 = £1.02 per item

Please bare in mind these are just examples, based on a salary of £18,500 per annum and an overtime rate of time & 1/3rd. Substitute these for your own figures and work out your own estimate. We’ve provided a handy calculator within an excel document you can download at the end of this article.

So, lets put these prices into context as they are a little meaningless at the minute. Are they cheaper or not?
Well, they are both much cheaper than what you would have paid in the previous decade, which explains the sudden increase of in-house PAT testing, but aren’t necessarily cheaper than you would pay now. For anything over 200 items (which is what most schools would be, some into the thousands of items) we would comfortably be able to beat the £1.02 estimate nationwide. As for the cheaper quote, with a large number of items, we could certainly get very close, maybe even beat it on a multi-year contract, but let’s consider if it is cheaper first. Let’s compare it with a quote of £0.84. It’s 7p cheaper on face-value, but we need to now consider the fixed costs, firstly the annual PAT tester calibration.

£40 ÷ £0.07 = 571

This means you would need to perform a minimum of 571 tests per annum to cover the cost of calibration. Every 571 tests after this you would save £40. Is this worth burdening your staff with the extra responsibility & workload? To hit your £40 saving it would require you testing 1,142 items, which many schools will have, but that’s approximately an extra 95 man-hours of work! Let us not forget the other one-off fixed costs – you need to make sure that you are making enough of a saving each year to cover your initial capital expenditure.

£700 ÷ £0.07 = 10,000!

This means, that you would need to perform a total of 10,571 tests before you hit your break even point with an extra 571 items added for every year it takes you to get there! For many schools this isn’t realistic as it would take years to reach that figure.

In-Source or Out-source PAT?

Each school will be different as each has different costs to consider. If you are looking at bringing PAT testing in-house now, in 2013, my advice would be don’t bother. As you can see from the example above and your own calculations that you’ve hopefully done, it will take years to break even and if you are constantly paying to retrain new staff you may never hit your break even point. If you are a very large school and able to hit 10,000 items in a couple of years, re-negotiate your rates with your current provider or get a quote from others.

If you currently in-source then it’s worth re-evaluating based on 2013 quotes and salaries. You may find that as your labour costs have gone up, the newer PAT quotes are significantly less that when you first decided to in-source and it is no longer viable to continue. Then it would be beneficial to enlist the services of a contractor.

It maybe that your one-off fixed costs have been covered over the previous years, so you don’t have to take that into account and it runs at a similar cost to a contractor, in which case you have a couple of options; it maybe that you can better utilise the expertise of the staff member elsewhere, so a PAT contractor would free up the time to do this, without having to pay staff overtime or, you could happily leave the arrangement as it is currently, to again re-evaluate the costs should your trained staff member leave the organisation, in which case re-training may not be worth it.

To perform your own calculations, you can use our handy excel based calculator here.

Misrated Fuse

Common PAT Testing Failures

Here are some examples of common PAT testing failures we find to give you an idea of what is deemed safe or not. It is important that the duty holder and end user have a basic knowledge of these items, so that any appliance that becomes unsafe between test periods gets removed from service and/or suitable repairs are carried out by a competent person.

Misrated Fuse

1. Incorrect Fuse Fitted

While there is an agreed standard for new electrical appliances, incorrect fuse ratings are still the most common issue found when PAT testing. With modern appliances anything that uses less than 700W of power should be fitted with a 3A fuse, anything above 700W a 13A fuse. While this works, and was designed to simplify the process, it’s not always adhered to and can be improved upon.

13A wall sockets are good for anything up to 3000W of power, therefore a general rule of thumb often applied is each 1000W draws approximately 4A of current, therefore needs a fuse rating slightly higher than that to protect the wire. In the event of an appliance entering a fault condition, a surge of current will blow the fuse, break the circuit and stop a too high current flowing down the wire. If the fuse rating is too high, it may not blow, potentially allowing a current too high to pass through the cable, which left over time will cause a fire.

How is it corrected? Your PAT test engineer will replace the fuse with the correct rating and your appliance will be safe to use.

2. Cracked or Damaged Plug

Damaged Plug

Any cracks or damage to the plug, or excessive damage to the appliance itself that may expose it’s electrics will fail. A cracked or damaged plug, could potentially be an electric shock risk when the end user is removing or plugging in the item. A cracked case that exposes the electrics inside, would also be a fail for the same reason.

How is it corrected? A cracked or damaged plug would be replaced by your PAT test engineer. An item with a damaged case will most likely need replacing, insulation tape is not an acceptable repair. If spotted before your PAT testing is due, they should be repaired or removed from service.

3. Non-Insulated Live and Neutral Pins

Non-insulated Live and Neutral Pins Despite not being manufactured in this style for many years, these plugs still crop up from time to time. Newer, modern plugs have the Live and Neutral pins insulated to stop the users fingers making connection with the metal when the plug is partially inserted, during plugging & unplugging of the appliance. Whereas if the plug and socket is the correct size and shape, the user shouldn’t be able to make contact with the pins until they have been disconnected from the source, there have been instances where people have used metal implements to remove a stuck plug and made contact. A common trick amongst school children was to wedge a 1p piece between the pins to create an explosion when plugging in – this is a very unsafe practice, potentially injuring the user, causing a fire and damaging the whole electric circuit. These plugs are very dangerous if used incorrectly and should not be used.

How is it corrected? These will be replaced by your PAT test engineer. If spotted before your PAT testing is due, they should be repaired or removed from service.

4. Earth Pin Insulation

Insulated Earth PinAs a complete opposite to the above problem, the plug attached to the cable to the left has the earth pin partly insulated that it shouldn’t have. We’ve covered this before on our Counterfeit Plugs blog post so have a read of that if you want details, but when this is plugged in, it won’t make the earth connection as required.

How is it corrected? These items are generally counterfeit cables, stamped as meeting the BS1363 when they don’t. The plug cannot be swapped as there is no way in telling if the rest of the cable has been manufactured with sub-standard materials. You should remove them from service, contact the supplier who you purchased them from for a full refund, and inform trading standards.

5. Damaged Flex

Damaged FlexExcessive wear and tear to the cable is also considered dangerous and the item should be removed from service if spotted. If any more damage was to occur to the flex in the image, bare wires would potentially be visible, creating a shock risk if the wire, or a conductive item that made a connection to the wire, was touched.

How is it corrected? In nearly all cases, damaged flex can be disconnected from the appliance and refitted with a direct replacement, or one with a heavier-duty sheath.

PAT Testing for Home Workers

PAT Testing for Home Workers

I’d like to thank everyone at Google for their excellent Google Analytics tool. Not only does it allow you to track visitors to your site in great detail, you can even find out how visitors find your site in the first place, what search engine they came from and what search term they used. Yesterday a visitor found my site by using the search term ‘PAT Testing for home workers’, which made me realise that;

  1. I had nothing on the site that explains whether home workers need to have their equipment PAT tested or not and,
  2. I wasn’t 100% sure whether home workers need to have their appliances tested or not!

I started doing a little bit of digging around to help find the answer and as usual the answer is, it depends!

PAT Testing for Home WorkersFirstly, it depends on who is providing the equipment. If you are ’employed’ as opposed to ‘self-employed’ then it’s likely that your appliances have been provided for you by your employer, therefore it’s their responsibility to ensure that any electrical items they provide are safe to use. The way most employers comply with this is through regular PAT testing so make sure that your items are done for you – speak to the responsible person within your organisation to see when the engineer is due or you may have an internal PAT tester that you can take your equipment to. It’s in your interest to get this done if you’re taking these appliances into your home – any potential of electric shock or fire now not only puts you at risk but anyone who shares your home. Your appliances may also be classed as a higher risk than normal if they’re regularly transported from home to office and back again, as opposed to static appliances sat on a desk, so depending on your company’s risk assessment, you might even have to have your items tested more frequently.

Secondly, it will depend on what sort of appliances you’ve been provided with. Laptops, mobile phones and tablet PC’s are exempt – you may sometimes see these defined as Class III or SELV appliances – basically they run off such low voltage you don’t need to worry about it. However, you will have mains chargers for them all, and they will require testing. How often really depends on your company’s policy, if they don’t yet have one you can check our list of recommended PAT testing frequencies. Brand new equipment won’t need testing, so if you’re anything like me and get through laptop chargers for fun, you might have new equipment more regularly than the test frequency, in which case you won’t have to bother. Remember to date your new equipment with a marker when you receive it or you’ll forget how old it is!

If you’re a mobile worker, regularly visiting different workplaces you’ll be bound by the policy of the company that you’re visiting, so make sure you check beforehand. IT equipment generally isn’t a problem, but I have heard of instances of people being refused entry, generally in more industrial environments and on building sites.

For the self-employed home worker it’s a little bit different. I can understand why someone’s initial reaction would be to not carry out PAT testing, especially if you are just using the same items that you would have in a home office/study if you weren’t a home worker. If you employ anyone else that works from your home office then it’s a definite ‘yes’ to have it done, you need to make sure your staff are using equipment that’s safe in the same way any employer would. If it’s just yourself I would still advise to have it done – insurance companies will look for any 1/2 excuse they can find to not pay out in the event of an accident – so I’d say take a common-sense approach and don’t take the risk. A test every 2 years would be sufficient, and would probably average out at £20 a year for most home offices.

A larger risk to working from home is overloaded sockets, especially when using extension leads when there aren’t enough available. Try our socket overload calculator to see if yours are safe.*

Bring Your Own Device PAT Testing

If you work for a company that has a Bring Your Own Device policy, then we hit yet another grey-area. If you are using your device on company premises, then it should be covered by the company as they have a duty of care towards other employees in the area. Using your own devices saves the company money by not having to invest in new technology, so it would be quite an unreasonable employer that makes you PAT test your own! It will vary and most companies won’t have even considered it, so your best option is to speak to your boss and find out.

*Socket Overload Calculator kindly provided by the Electrical Safety Council.

Counterfeit Plugs

Counterfeit Plugs

It seems that a suspect batch of counterfeit plugs has entered the UK market. Many of us will have been stung online before with counterfeit goods, either from internet auction sites or other outlets but it’s not the branding that is in question with these items – it seems they have been molded as BS1363 (the British Standard for a normal 3-pin plug) but don’t meet the requirements. If you have recently had your items PAT tested then you should be fine – an experienced PAT tester would pick up the problem at the visual inspection stage, failing that the lead and plug would fail the earth bond test. It is easy to spot when you’ve seen one – the earth pin (the longer pin at the top of the plug) is half insulated (see image below).

Counterfeit Plugs
Earth pin (on the right) is part insulated.

To meet the British Standard, this can be fully plastic for Class 2, non-earthed appliances – you may have mobile phone chargers and other low-voltage power supply units like this – but for all other appliances it should be solid brass with no insulation. The live and neutral pins are supposed to be insulated, this is to protect the fingers as the plug is removed – the pins will be disconnected from the mains (connection is made at the back of the wall socket) before the user can touch any metal part. However the earth pin connects at the front of the socket. This is so that when the appliance is being plugged in, it is earthed safely before the live and neutral pins are connected and current begins passing through the item. It remains safely earthed until after the live and neutral pins are disconnected when unplugging the item. If the above lead was to be plugged into a wall socket, the metal earth connectors inside the socket would be touching the plastic insulation, not making an earth connection as required.

BS1363 IEC Lead
The earth pin on this IEC lead conforms to the British Standard and would make a safe earth connection

Why is this important?

In the event of a problem with the appliance, such as a connection between a live wire and a metal part of the appliance, the earth pin is designed to make sure the current flows safely to ground, and that the user isn’t at risk of getting an electric shock. The insulation on the earth pin will break this ‘safety circuit’ and the metal parts of the appliance will potentially be carrying a live electric current.

What should I do about it?

The easiest thing to do is get staff to double-check all your equipment. A quick visual inspection will find the problem. In the event you find any items with semi-insulated earth pins, remove them from service immediately. If you know where that particular lead has been purchased from, contact the retailer for a full refund. Trading Standards should also be made aware if you think the retailer/manufacturer is knowingly selling these counterfeit items. IEC (kettle leads) cables that supply power to many appliances, such as PCs, monitors and printers are the most common kind found. Do not attempt to repair with a replacement plug as other sub-standard materials may have been used in the production of these items.

What is a Portable Appliance?

So your PAT testing is due, you’re in the process of getting quotes and you’ve been asked how many items you’ve got that require testing. How do you define what is a portable appliance, what isn’t and what needs testing?

A common myth is that the appliance has to be below 18kg in weight – this is incorrect and this only defines whether an appliance is classed as portable/movable (below 18kg) or stationary (equal or above 18kg). An example may be a fridge or washing machine – these would almost certainly be over 18kg, however are still appliances, still pose a risk to the user and are still ‘movable’ in the dictionary definition of the word. Due to the weight, and fact they are moved more infrequently compared to small appliances, they would be classed as stationary objects for PAT testing frequency reasons.

The easiest way to grasp what needs PAT testing and what doesn’t is to completely ignore the term PAT testing, especially the ‘Portable’ section of it. The IET are making moves to change the name to ‘in-service inspection & testing of electrical equipment’ which is a bit of a mouthful but more accurately describes the process. ‘Electrical equipment’, that is ‘in-service’ gets ‘inspected & tested’. The IET are using this phrase inconstantly in their documents and I personally don’t see it catching on – Electrical Appliance Testing or simply Appliance Testing might be a more suitable way of thinking about it.

Short answer – if it has a plug on it, test it!

Cafe PAT Testing

Cafe PAT Testing

Today’s blog post fits in nicely with the PAT testing frequency query that I previously answered. With some businesses, it may initially not be that obvious what category you fall under when trying to decide how often you need to PAT test. A cafe, restaurant, bar or pub would come under several categories depending on the area the appliance is used in.

Cafe PAT Testing

Any items used in the kitchen would clearly come under commercial kitchen PAT testing so that is reasonably simple. Items behind a bar could also come under that section; there is an increasing trend for cafes to toast paninis and sandwiches on the back bar of the counter, these contact grills would be an excellent example of appliances of this nature. Pie warmers, hot cabinets or cocktail blenders should also be dealt with in the same manner.

Where the customers sit is a different matter. Ideally, there should be no electrical appliances that the general public can touch, especially if you often have children in your establishment. You may have lamps to enhance the lighting or a TV on the wall – these aren’t appliances that the public would ‘use’ in the sense of the IET guidelines so it may be suitable to apply the shop PAT testing guidelines in this case.

Items that the public would use would be more applicable to vending machines, self-service coffee or soft-drinks machines, soup kettles or fruit machines. You may find that once you’ve reviewed all your appliances, that you’ll have some that require different PAT testing intervals. It can be common to have items with 3, 6, 12 and 24 month intervals all within a single business premises. If you require any help putting together your PAT testing schedule, contact us and we will be happy to help.

Vending Machine PAT Testing

“We hire our vending machines in our office. Whose responsibility is it to make sure they’re PAT tested?”

This is a simple one really – it’s up to the machine owner to ensure that the equipment they provide you is safe. The same applies for all hired appliances, from vending machines & water coolers, to smaller short-term hired appliances that you may have. This doesn’t mean you can ignore them and forget about them though, make sure they have been recently tested when you accept delivery of the item and if they don’t get re-tested when they are supposed to be then contact the hire company. If the appliance was to cause a fire or injury and it’s on your business premises it’s going to inconvenience you much more!

PAT Testing Frequency

When visiting clients we often get asked the question;

“How often does my equipment need PAT testing?”

The common misconception is that it needs carrying out once a year. Another is that it doesn’t need carrying out at all! So which is it?
Well, neither are true and there are many things to consider before you decide how regular to test your appliances. Before you do, you can read our guides towards PAT testing and the law and fire & insurance requirements to give yourself some background knowledge.

If you’re happy that you satisfy these, then the IEE (Institute of Electrical Engineers) have published a code of conduct. Within the document, which was last revised in November 2012, it contains guidelines as to how often your equipment should be tested. We’ve broken this down into handy sections so that you can work out what will be most suitable for your business needs. You can find it located at the link below.

PAT Testing Frequency Guide

PAT Testing for Landlords

Many people ask me what their obligations are when it comes to PAT Testing in rental properties. The short answer is that it depends what you are letting with the property – if the property is unfurnished & only contains hard-wired electrics such as lights & plug sockets then there is nothing for you to PAT Test. If it’s part or fully-furnished and some of those items are portable appliances, then you are required under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to ensure the premises are fit for people to live & remain in such condition.

There’s nothing that explicitly states that you must perform PAT testing, however it is any easy and cost-effective way to show that you have complied with the legislation. Having an annually dated PAT test certificate puts the onus back on the tenant to ensure they are looking after items as they should be and reporting anything unusual between tests.  Below are a couple of keypoints that are worth taking note of.

In Great Britain in 2010;

  • 22 people died as a result of electrocution and/or fatal electric burns suffered at home
  • there were 20,284 accidental electrical fires in homes, resulting in 48 deaths and 3,324 injuries

If you own any rental property here are a couple of handy pdf guides from the Electrical Safety Council