PAT Testing 101: Beginner’s Guide to Portable Appliances Testing (PAT)

If you are an employer, Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) testing is the perfect solution for ensuring that all electrical equipment at work is technically sound and safe to use. With electrical fires making up 33% of all accidental fires in the workplace in the UK, this is an important step you need to take to achieve regulatory compliance with all relevant health and safety legislation. 

If you are new to PAT testing, this handy guide will give you all the crucial information you need at a glance, so read along and get your occupational health and safety (OH&S) practices on track! 

What is PAT testing and what does it involve?

PAT testing stands for Portable Appliance Testing is an inspection conducted on all electrical equipment at work to ensure that it can be used safely. It involves a manual examination done using a special PAT test device which is preceded by regular informal checks by the user and a formal visual inspection by a specialist. 

User Checks

Every member of staff should be given the appropriate training so that they know how to use the equipment correctly without endangering themselves or others. In addition to that, your employees should be able to spot health and safety hazards, such as obvious signs of damage to the equipment (e.g. naked cables, dangling plugs etc), as well as other potential risks, including live cables near water and cables trapped under furniture. 

Formal Visual Inspection

While user checks have an informal nature, before a manual PAT test is conducted, every eligible appliance should undergo a formal visual inspection to spot any obvious signs of damage. 

At the start of the visual inspection, the appliance must be unplugged to prevent accidents. Then, the inspector will follow a list of items to check, including:

  • Plugs: Examine for signs of burns, incorrect wiring, cracks and other signs of damage 
  • Cables: Confirm the cables are undamaged and there are no exposed wires 
  • Appliances: Check for burn marks, rust, cracks and any other obvious concerns 
  • Socket: Loose fittings, signs of burn and exposed wires are some of the issues to look for
  • Residual Current Device (RCD) Checks: Use the test button to ensure the device works as it should and examine for other visual signs of damage 
  • Environmental Checks: Take a look at the place where the appliance is used and identify any hazards that could arise from the environment (proximity to water, trip hazards, tangled wiring etc). 

The formal visual inspection can either be done by an appointed member of staff who has been given formal PAT training or by a professional engineer who specialises in PAT testing. 

The PAT Testing Procedure 

Once the visual inspection is done, the PAT tester will proceed with the manual PAT test examination. As part of the testing procedure, a portable appliance tester device is used to check the continuity, polarity and resistance of the equipment. 

Once the results are out, the tester will place a PAT label on the equipment to mark whether it has passed or failed. If the device has passed, it can be used safely. If it has failed, you will need to take action and either has the appliance fixed or replaced before it can undergo another PAT test. A device that has failed a PAT test is considered unsafe and should not be used until it has passed the test. 

The official PAT testing guideline can be found under ‘Maintaining Portable Electrical Equipment’ on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website. 

What appliances need a PAT test?

PAT testing is done on all portable electrical equipment; this includes every electrical appliance that can be unplugged from the electrical supply and moved to a different location. Portable equipment can be small (e.g. computers, printers, kettles, heaters, toasters, fans, microwaves and TVs) or large (washing machines, fridges, vending machines, etc). 

Portable electrical appliances can be categorised as either Class I or Class II based on the level of user protection they provide:

  • Class I: An earth connection is used to prevent electric shocks. The casing is usually is made of metal. Common examples include kitchen equipment, such as toasters, microwaves and fridges.  
  • Class II: A double insulation is used for additional protection. Typically, a plastic casing is used. Common Class II appliances include computers, printers and photocopiers  

Wired-in equipment, as well as battery-operated appliances, such as mobile phones, do not need to be PAT tested. 

PAT Testing Rules and Regulations

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, it is the employer’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. Specific guidance on your responsibilities as a duty holder regarding electrical equipment can be found in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.

Failure to comply with the above legal requirements may result in large finical fines and legal action against you and your business. So, even though Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) testing is not a legal requirement per se, it should be an essential part of the health and safety compliance strategy of any business that uses portable electric appliances. This includes everything from offices, hotels and healthcare providers to self-employed home workers.  

PAT testing is done to ensure that everyone is safe at work and that you, as an employer, have fulfilled your duties as described by the law. It’s a simple, cost-effective solution too. 

PAT Testing FAQ 

Now that we have the basics covered, our PAT testing guide will explore some of the other important questions you may have regarding your portable appliance testing. 

How often do I need a PAT test?

The frequency of PAT testing needed is determined by the risk level associated with the equipment. This includes factors such as how often it’s used, where it’s used and who is using it. Your regular risk assessment will give you further guidance on the specifics of each appliance but usually, you are advised to conduct a PAT test at least once a year. 

Who is responsible for PAT testing at work? 

The employer carries the legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their staff, so PAT testing, as part of the general compliance strategy, will come under the employer’s duties. 

Who can carry out a PAT test?

A PAT test can only be conducted by someone who has had the appropriate training. Depending on the complexity of the equipment and the level of risk involved, this could either be a staff member who has undergone PAT training or a professional PAT tester. 

What is a PAT test certificate?

The PAT test certificate is a document that is issued by a specialist PAT testing engineer at the end of the PAT inspection. You should keep this in your records as it can be used as evidence of your compliance with the health and safety regulations. 

Can I do my own PAT test?

Yes, but only if you have undergone the relevant PAT testing training. If the PAT testing procedure hasn’t been carried out as it should, this could expose people at work to health risks and expose your business to various problems caused by regulatory compliance failure. 

How can Cardinal Fire help?

Cardinal Fire is a PAT testing company based in the West Midlands, offering affordable PAT testing services to businesses in the area. Our PAT testers are highly qualified and have FIA and BAFE certification, as well as ISO 9001 and UKAS quality management accreditation.