The Electricity at Work Regulations

The Electricity At Work Regulations require business owners/employers/etc. to maintain safety standards for every item of electrical equipment used for work purposes including every kettle, computer, photocopier, power tool, extension lead, etc. 

In order to comply with this regulation you need to maintain and be able to prove that each appliance is safe, the most recognised method is called PAT, or Portable Appliance Testing

Portable Appliance Testing however, as a phrase, causes confusion as the word ‘portable’ refers to the appliance being able to be unplugged from a socket; not whether you can move it easily. So we prefer to use the phrase inspection and testing of electrical equipment, but nobody outside the electrical industry knows what that means, so we call it PAT testing. PAT Testing is carried out on all electrical appliances up to and including those using 415 volt adaptors, whether they can be unplugged or not; as appliances that are fixed via a fused spur unit also fall into the scope of PAT. 

In addition to appliances with a plug, and those via a spur you also need to maintain safety standards of battery powered equipment, and equipment powered directly into the mains not via a spur; but neither of those would be carried out by us under normal circumstances. 

Portable equipment

Special attention should be given to joints and connections in cables and equipment which will be handled, eg flexible cables for portable equipment. Plugs and sockets for portable equipment must be constructed in accordance with appropriate standards and arranged so that, where necessary, earthing of any metal casing of the equipment is automatically effected by the insertion of the plug. HSE guidance (see Maintaining portable electric equipment in low-risk environments) and British Standards give further guidance on portable equipment.

Regulation 4(2)

Regulation 4(2) is concerned with the need for maintenance to be done to ensure safety of the system, rather than with the activity of doing the maintenance in a safe manner (which is required by regulation 4(3)).

The obligation to maintain arises only if danger would otherwise result. The maintenance should be sufficient to prevent danger so far as is reasonably practicable.

Inspection and, where necessary, testing of equipment is an essential part of any preventive maintenance programme. Practical experience of use may indicate an adjustment to the frequency at which preventive maintenance needs to be carried out. This is a matter for the judgement of the dutyholder, who should seek all the information they need to make this judgement including reference to the equipment manufacturer’s guidance.

Records can aid demonstration of compliance and allow useful analysis of equipment condition, although keeping records is not a legal requirement. Maintenance records (including test results), preferably kept throughout the working life of an electrical system, will allow the condition of the equipment and the effectiveness of maintenance policies to be monitored. Without effective monitoring, dutyholders cannot be certain that the requirement for maintenance has been complied with.

British Standard Codes of Practice offering guidance on maintenance are referred to in Further reading. Advice on inspection and testing of some fixed installations is given in BS 7671.

Electrical equipment

‘Electrical equipment’ as defined in the Regulations includes every type of electrical equipment from, for example, a high- voltage transmission overhead line to a battery-powered hand lamp. There are no voltage limits in the Regulations; the criteria are whether danger (as defined) may arise. It is appropriate for the Regulations to apply even at the very lowest end of the voltage or power spectrum because the Regulations are concerned with, for example, explosion risks, which may be caused by very low levels of energy igniting flammable gases even though there may be no risk of electric shock or burn.

Regulation 4 Systems, work activities and protective equipment

(1) All systems shall at all times be of such construction as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, danger.

(2) As may be necessary to prevent danger, all systems shall be maintained so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, such danger.

(3) Every work activity, including operation, use and maintenance of a system and work near a system, shall be carried out in such a manner as not to give rise, so far as is reasonably practicable, to danger.

(4) Any equipment provided under these Regulations for the purpose of protecting persons at work on or near electrical equipment shall be suitable for the use for which it is provided, be maintained in a condition suitable for that use, and be properly used.

Regulation 4 covers, in a general way, those aspects of electrical systems and equipment, and work on or near these, which are fundamental to electrical safety.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 all relate to maintaining safe electrical equipment. 

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 puts the duty of care upon both the employer and the employee to ensure the safety of all persons using the work premises. This includes the self employed.

The IEE Code of Practice for In Service Inspection and Testing of Equipment sets out the standard to which each appliance is comprehensively tested and we use the very latest PAT testing equipment made by Seaward, the leading providers of PAT Testing equipment to carry this out.

 Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 came into force on 1st April 1990; their purpose is to require precautions to be taken against the risk of death or personal injury from electricity, in work activities.

In the main, the Regulations are concerned with the prevention of danger from electric shock, electric burn, electrical explosion or arcing or from fire or explosion initiated by electric energy.

All places of work covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act (offices, schools, factories, sports centres, hotels, shops, community centres, hair salons, etc.) are covered under the Electricity at Work Regulations.

The regulations convey principles of electrical safety, as applied to any electrical equipment, any work activity having a bearing on electrical safety – in other words they all apply to all electrical systems and equipment, in connection with work activities, whenever manufactured, purchased, installed or taken into use, even if its manufacture or installation pre-dates the regulations.

Who is responsible?

Duties rest with employers, the self-employed and employees to comply with the regulations and where the provisions relate to matters which are within their control, each becomes a ‘duty holder’.

The onus is on the ‘duty holder’ to assess the work activities which utilise electricity, or which may be affected by it. ‘Duty holders’ are required to have regard to all foreseeable risks (suitability, design, construction, siting, environmental effects, protection/precaution and installation) of electrical systems for specific tasks; not merely the prevention of electric shock.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets out the general duties which employers have towards employees and members of the public, and employees have to themselves and to each other.

These duties are qualified in the Act by the principle of ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. In other words, an employer does not have to take measures to avoid or reduce the risk if they are technically impossible or if the time, trouble or cost of the measures would be grossly disproportionate to the risk.

What the law requires is what good management and common sense would lead employers to do anyway: that is, to look at what the risks and take sensible measures to tackle them.

The main requirement on employers is to carry out a risk assessment. Employers with five or more employees need to record the significant findings of the risk assessment.

Risk assessment should be straightforward in a simple workplace such as a typical office. It should only be complicated if it deals with serious hazards such as those on a nuclear power station, a chemical plant, laboratory or an oil rig.

Download your own copy of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 from the Health and Safety Executive website.

As well as the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 the ‘duty holder’ is expected to comply with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment 1998.