PAT testing explained – everything you need to know about PAT Testing

If you have queries, concerns or questions about PAT, this PAT Testing information guide will help you

Let me just introduce myself and tell you something you should know. I am Richard, this is my business, my website, my company. I started the business in 2009, having retrained after 10 years in banking – I am qualified in PAT testing, Part P electrical installation and attained the 17th Edition Wiring Regulations. I haven’t done the 18th edition as there is no need to. I am also trained in safe isolation to test fixed appliances. In addition to being the Managing Director and PAT engineer for DRA PAT testing (as well as my team of engineers), I am the Operations Director for the UK’s Portable Appliance Testing Trade Association. I think this puts me in a good place to tell you about PAT testing.

I have always been one to promote keeping it simple; PAT can so easily be over complicated, tradesmen over complicate their trade by talking in jargon all the time – I prefer not to, as much as possible. In this page I am going to try to explain every aspect (or the bits you should be aware of) but in an easy to understand way,

However, like when you want to outsource any job, how much of it do you really need to know? Not much. The best thing to do is book us to come in to your home or workplace, and we’ll do our thing, and I promise you we will do it to the best of our ability, because we are experts at what we do.

Richard Ayre, PAT testing expert, owner of DRA PAT Testing, and Operations Director for the Portable Appliance Testing Trade Association

If you just want to arrange to get some PAT testing done get a PAT testing quote here. 

What is PAT testing? What’s the Point of PAT testing? There is no value in PAT Testing. How often do I have to PAT Test?

We created this page because of questions and statements like this. Some people genuinely are interested and want to know more about why PAT testing is important, whilst others don’t see the value in it. It’s important everyone knows why it is necessary, as it is actually quite difficult to find out exactly why we do PAT. This guide is intended to show you, and answer your questions. If you get all the way to the end and still have a question, complete the form and send it to us, and we will do our best to answer.

What is PAT testing?

PAT testing is a process carried out by a competent person to check electrical appliances fitted with a plug are safe to continue using; usually conducted in a workplace. The main purpose of a PAT test is to reduce the chances of an electrical accident occurring in the workplace.

A full PAT test includes a thorough visual inspection by a competent person; arguably the most important part of the check, the engineer is looking for visual faults in the plug, flex and appliance that may cause injury to the user or worse. Most issues found in a visual inspection will not be picked up by a PAT tester machine.

This vitally important aspect of the check is often skipped by PAT testing companies offering low prices – they offer low prices in the hope of securing more work, or finding lots of extra items to ‘test’; their engineers rush from item to item testing everything but checking (in some cases) nothing. This urgency can lead to mistakes which will lead to accidents later, but that is an other discussion entirely and we are digressing.

After the visual inspection has been passed, appliances with exposed metal parts will undergo electrical tests for earth continuity, insulation resistance and polarity, depending on the make up and classification of the appliance.

On completion of the inspections and or tests, if the engineer is satisfied the appliance is safe, the item will be marked with a “pass” PAT testing label, and be recorded in the engineers logging system which is used to create the report you are sent.

Image showing the Inside the plug top of an overheated extension plug, by DRA PAT Testing

What’s the point of PAT testing?

The main aim of a PAT test is to prevent danger, maintain and ensure an electrical appliance is safe to continue using. The point of it; is to protect the user from electric shock or reduce the chances of the appliance catching fire.

What is the value of PAT testing?

We’re not talking about the cost of PAT testing here, we’re talking about why we do it. PAT testing is part of health and safety; it is no secret, you don’t have to do it. But you do have to make sure electrical equipment is safe, and the easiest, and usually cheapest way to do that is by getting a PAT Test done. If you want your business to comply with the UK’s workplace regulations then you need to make sure your equipment is safe, so you’re going to need to get PAT testing done. PAT helps you to comply with the law – that is the value of PAT testing.

What does P.A.T. stand for?

PAT‘ stands for ‘Portable Appliance Testing‘. A portable appliance is defined as “any appliance that has a plug attached to it and plugs into a wall socket”.

Is PAT testing a legal requirement?

The process of carrying out a PAT test is not a legal requirement BUT… ensuring electrical equipment is safe to use, is a legal requirement, and it is a PAT test that confirms whether an appliance is safe.

So although PAT testing is not a legal requirement, it is recognised as the standard way to meet the legal obligation.

Find out more about how PAT testing can help you comply with your legal requirements on this information page.

What you need to know about Health and Safety

But if I don’t get equipment PAT tested, it doesn’t really matter does it?

It always matters that you are not taking action to prevent injury to staff or the public; it may not matter now to you, but if there is an accident you’ll be wishing you had had PAT testing done. The PAT Testing Certificate Report is a useful document to have to hand in a legal battle, as it confirms you have taken action to make sure your equipment is safe.

If you don’t make sure equipment is safe and there is an accident; the penalty can be imprisonment or a big fine – companies have been known to completely fold after such an investigation because they can’t afford to pay the fine.

There was a County Durham hotel a few years ago that caught fire due to an electrical appliance fault; it was completely destroyed. PAT testing had never been done because the owner thought a few hundred pounds was a waste of money. He lost over half a million pounds when the hotel was destroyed and the insurance company refused to pay out. 

Who is responsible for electrical appliance safety?

Everybody, but in a work place, ultimate responsibility falls in the hands of the owner, employer or appointed duty holder. It is your responsibility to ensure that all electrical equipment is safe and appropriate measures have been implemented to ensure they stay that way.

Health and Safety at Work Blue sign

How long does a PAT test last?

A PAT test should be carried out as often as the risk requires it, based on appliance type and use. A electrical equipment test (PAT) confirms an appliance is safe at the time it is tested; once it is used again damage could occur and so the results are no longer valid. If there is a high likelihood of this happening (such as tools on a building site) the appliance should be inspected / tested more often, than an appliance where the likelihood of damage occurring is much lower, like IT equipment on a desk in an office.

What needs PAT testing?

All electrical appliances fitted with a plug, that connect to the mains via a socket, require PAT testing.

Electrical appliances are broken down in to ‘classes’ such as Class I and Class II, which basically means they rely on earth for protection or don’t. Whether they rely on earth or don’t helps to determine what safety measures they have in place and so what tests need conducting on them.

what needs pat testing? all electrical appliances fitted with a plug
Class I electrical symbol (requires earth protection)

Class 1 Info

Class I (1) appliances display this symbol, and rely on earth for protection. These appliances would be tested for earth continuity and insulation resistance.

Examples of class 1 appliances include kettles, microwave ovens, toasters, computers, monitors, printers, washing machines, fridge freezers, etc.

double insulated symbol for electrical equipment

Class 2 Info

Class II (2) appliances display this symbol; a box in a box, referencing that they have 2 layers (of insulation) to protect the user. They are referred to as ‘double insulated‘. They do not require earth for protection. Some of these appliances have exposed metal parts which allow them to be tested for insulation resistance, whilst others have no exposed parts so they cannot be tested, but should be inspected by a competent person (usually the same person who is testing the other appliances.

Examples of class 2 appliances include lawn mowers, drills, food mixers, desk lamps, DVD players, Sky TV boxes, hair driers, AC/DC adaptors, etc.

Class 2 FE symbol

Class 2 FE (Functional earth)

Class 2 FE (Functional earth) is a new edition, with some suggesting it has been brought in just to confuse everyone! Some equipment has required an earth for functional or screening purposes, even though it relies on double or reinforced insulation for safety. An example of this would be a laptop power-supply unit (PSU).

Previously this would have been considered to be a Class 1 appliance, because it has an earth connection, even though it wouldn’t be necessary to carry out electrical tests on it, because there are not any exposed conductive parts. There is an excellent article about this on the Portable Appliance Testing Trade Association website.

What is PAT testing and why do we do it?

Checking electrical equipment at work is nothing new; it has been around for many years, but has been most recognised since the introduction of the Electricity at Work Regulations in 1989.

It is necessary to maintain safe electrical equipment because faulty equipment can lead to the risk of an electric shock, overheating and fire – electrical equipment is identified as one of the main causes of fire in the UK every year.

Regular inspection and testing of equipment is an essential part of any preventative maintenance programme and helps to ensure that equipment is safe.

What equipment is tested as part of the PAT test?

Any electrical appliance supplied with a plug or adaptor to be inserted into a socket to power on, including

  • Portable” electrical equipment such as lamps, kettles and fans
  • Stationery equipment such as fridge-freezers, bench grinders and IT server racks
  • Hand-held equipment such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and power tools
  • IT equipment such as computers, printers and photocopiers
  • Fixed or Built-in (integrated) appliances such as washing machines
  • Extension and other power leads

Whilst these terms are utilised less and less these days, as we simply refer to appliances as either with a plug, or without, they are handy terms to consider when thinking about the risk of the appliance. The table below gives a good example.

Appliance Category ↓ Description Risk Level Visual Inspection needed? PAT test needed?
Fixed Equipment which has been hard-wired to the main installation Low Yes, perhaps inline with existing portable* appliances No – although it should be tested by a competent person in line with the installation inspection
Stationery Usually includes domestic appliances such as fridge freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, etc. Low Yes Yes, but not as often as the visual inspection, and less often than a moveable appliance
Moveable Equipment that would usually stay in one place but could be easily moved like a Microwave oven, or television Low to Medium Yes Yes if has exposed metal parts
IT Computers, monitors, printers, etc. Low to Medium Yes Yes if has exposed metal parts, but not as often as portable equipment
Portable Equipment that could be moved whilst connected to the mains, such as a kettle or lawnmower Medium to High Yes Yes if has exposed metal parts, frequently
Cables & leads Extension leads, IEC leads, etc. Dependent on the appliance they are used with Always Yes, except for class 2 leads in low risk environments
Hand-held Hairdryers, hand held power tools and kitchen appliances High Yes, may be more often than you think Yes, except for class 2 in low risk environments

Whilst there are different terms for portable appliances, ultimately any appliance fitted with a plug that goes into a socket, should be deemed to be a portable appliance; it is just that some portable appliances are more portable, or moved more often than others, so the risk of damage occurring is higher or differs.

Whilst some appliances may not need an actual PAT Test they do need to be inspected by an experienced, competent person.

How often is PAT testing needed?

To know properly you should do a risk assessment to determine PAT testing frequency, but really how many people actually do that? Not many. Most either take the guidance from their PAT testing company, or refer to the HSE’s guidance. Either should keep you right. If you want to know more, check out our PAT testing frequency page which has loads of information on this matter.

The process we call PAT testing is carried out to..

  • Check the appliance is visually sound, that there are no cuts to the cable, that the plug is in good condition, and the fuse is correct, etc.
  • Check that the earthing protection is functioning correctly
  • Check that the insulation protection is functioning correctly

This is a broad overview but you get the idea; if all these things are working correctly then the user is safe.

What does the law say about electrical equipment at work?

The law requires electrical equipment to be maintained to prevent danger arising. As part of a maintenance regime, inspections are necessary and testing may be required. The law does not specify what needs to be done, by who, and how often. There are many legal regulations that relate to electrical equipment.

The Provision and Use of Work  Equipment Regulations 1989 (PUWER) requires every employer to ensure that electrical equipment is maintained in good condition and inspected as necessary to prevent danger.

Electrical equipment inspections and testing (aka PAT testing) should be carried out on a regular basis, determined by a risk assessment. How often PAT testing should be done can’t be answered in one sentence, as many possible factors must be taken into consideration. Our PAT testing frequency page gives some guidance on this. The best action if you are unsure is to talk to us when we do the inspection.

PAT testing is carried out by a competent person; that is someone who has adequate knowledge of electrical safety, experience of electrical work, an understanding of the system they are working on, an understanding of the hazards and the ability  to recognise whether it is safe to continue.

electrical plugs and fuses

Free Repairs & Parts

Plugs get damaged or the wrong fuse gets fitted; if we find a fault or repair that's needed we do it automatically, nearly always without charge
2 people shaking hands because they got their pat test certificate quickly

Prompt PAT Test Certificates

We issue PAT testing Certificates within 5 days of the job completing; same day certificates can be arranged if you're really in a hurry
tidy electrical cables on desks

Free Cable Tidying

Plugs and wires get messy in and around desks; some companies charge extra to sort them out - we do it automatically as we go to improve safety and efficiency

You may find this HSE document useful – Maintaining portable electrical equipment

This guidance document is for managers, electricians, technicians and users and gives sensible advice on maintaining portable electrical equipment to prevent danger. It covers equipment that is connected to the fixed mains supply or a locally generated supply.

It outlines a recommended maintenance plan based on a straightforward, inexpensive system of user checks, formal visual inspection and testing.

Has your question been answered?

If you haven’t got the PAT testing help you needed from this page, we’re not sure what else we can tell you, but please complete this form and submit it. We’ll get back to you with an answer.

I manage a call centre in Newcastle upon Tyne; we have about 200 desks. Before I met Richard we had an electrician do the testing; it took them weeks, we were severely disrupted, our business was affected and it cost a fortune! Now we use DRA PAT testing every year; it takes them a weekend when we’re closed – there is no disruption, they tidy our messy wires and show us where to save money. They have improved our efficiency, and whilst we don’t need annual PAT testing we get it done because it benefits us to do so. We will never go elsewhere and always recommend DRA PAT Testing.