Is PAT testing a legal requirement?

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. 

Inspection and Testing of Electrical Appliances is in effect a legal requirement – many people say that the law doesn’t state you have to get PAT Tested, and when we use the phrase ‘PAT Testing’ then those people are very correct.

Ultimately the HSE does say you do need to get your electrical appliances checked for safety on a regular basis. How often, and which items is determined by your health and safety policy, risk assessment and ultimately the advice of a PAT testing company.

Scope of the legislation

It is clear that the combination of the HSW Act 1974, the PUWER 1998 and the EAW Regulations 1989 apply to all electrical equipment used in, or associated with, places of work. The scope extends from distribution systems down to the smallest piece of electrical equipment.
It is clear that there is a requirement to inspect and test all types of electrical equipment in all work situations.

The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974

The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998


A brief overview relating to electrical equipment

An employer is required, by law, to ensure that any electrical equipment provided to be used in the workplace (incl. hotels, accommodation, schools, etc.) is as safe today as it was the day it was built by the manufacturer. The employer can check this using two recognised methods:

Maintenance: Maintaining an appliance to its correct working condition, preferably by a specialist, and keeping records for the maintenance carried out.

Inspection and Testing: By carrying out a series of tests on an appliance we know if it meets the required safety levels; if it doesn’t further maintenance can be carried out. Records of these tests are usually kept, and provided to the employer.

Maintenance Versus Inspection and Testing

Larger companies will employ a maintenance team, such as electricians, IT staff etc. to ensure their equipment keeps running at optimum levels, and generally they’ll get appliances tested as a backup.

All the other companies who can’t afford an in-house IT department and maintenance staff, choose the cheaper option, which is to contract an inspection and testing company to carry out regular inspections and tests on all their appliances. This process is more commonly called Portable Appliance Testing, and sometimes appliances that are not portable, will be checked too.

The benefits of this method are the process is quicker, usually a one-off (over a recurring period like every year), and more cost effective.

Getting every appliance tested, usually for a low fee, will flag up any need for further maintenance (on electrical safety not always functionality); if all appliances pass the tests then maintenance won’t be needed.

If you choose “Portable Appliance Testing” how often is it needed?

That rests on a risk assessment; if you have five or more employees you have to carry out risk assessments anyway; the risk assessment will determine the risk of the appliance where it is in use, and that will help to determine how often appliances should be tested.


Our recommendations

We recommend you check out the legislation to see how it affects you and your business.