There was a time when businesses got their electrical equipment checked to make sure it was safe, and then they rechecked after a desired period of time based on the guidance of the inspector. This made perfect sense.
Then over time it became normal practice to get all appliances tested every year. This also made perfect sense because doing so was considered an appropriate amount of time between checks to ensure appliances stayed safe or to capture any faults that had developed, and not too long a period where dangers could arise without being found.
This period of time also became a national standard – insurance companies preferred it, fire officers preferred it, health and safety preferred it.
It was simple, and it happened everywhere.
The beauty of it was that a business could get a local PAT tester to visit their workplace, inspect all their appliances, do running repairs, test items that needed testing and provide them with a comprehensive report that listed all appliances, and the test results. This was exactly what everyone needed to comply with the likes of the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974, Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and so on.
When an accident occurred and the HSE got involved, or an insurance investigator, they’d ask – “when did you last check this appliance was safe?” And they’d be able to show them their PAT Certificate, which showed the appliance was checked within the last 12 months, and the assessor would be happy. Box ticked, pay-out rubber stamped. (*there’s a bit more to it than this but you get the gist)
PAT testing was carried out annually for years – it was never an issue, it was cost effective as it didn’t really cost that much and the beauty of it was it gave a business everything they needed.
Then in 2011 the Government got involved and the Lofted Report was commissioned. And then it all got very confusing.
The report was written in reference to all kinds of Health and Safety systems, but what was pounced on more by the press than anything, was the portable appliance testing. Unfortunately many people don’t hold it in high regard – these people have not suffered an electric shock or had their business wiped out by an electrical fire.
The report suggested that not all items of electrical equipment needed testing every year; some appliances didn’t need testing as often and some needed it doing more often, and the messages put out ranged from the sensible to the ridiculous.
The HSE, and the IET put out their guidance on how often appliances should be tested, and everyone was suddenly talking about their PAT testing frequency.
Computers should be tested this often, power leads this often, kettles this often, tools this often, vacuum cleaners this often and all of a sudden it was very confusing and very expensive. Before this a business had got the tester in to test 300 items every year and it cost them £500.00. Now they needed to get them in every 3 years for the stationery IT equipment, every 5 for other stationery equipment, every 6 months for the vacuum cleaner, every year for the kitchen appliances, and so on, and each time there was a callout charge, and more and more paperwork and before anyone knew it a very simple system had got very complicated, and expensive.
To top it all off, because things were now on different frequencies you needed to show how you came up with that frequency, and how that frequency ensured safety, because despite guidance being available, it was just guidance and not a legal timeframe.
So now you have to do a risk assessment, and not just one; many. A fire risk assessment, an assessment of the risk of use, and assessment of the environment, an assessment of different types of appliance, and each one costs money to produce. Suddenly that £500 PAT test is costing £2000 in assessor fees before you start doing the appliance tests.
The Lofsted report was talked about (argued) for years, and nobody could come up with a clear justification about whether it had improved the system.
Aware of all this confusion in 2020 guidance started to change, retest tables were pulled from guidance documents, and the message simply was – get your appliances checked regularly enough to ensure they stay safe to use, and to prevent danger.
So what is an acceptable time period to prevent danger?
Nobody knows, because every workplace is different, users are different and you have to do your risk assessments to determine that.
Or, you simply get your PAT testing done in full every year, or a period proportionate to the risk of the use and environment. If your PAT Testing company is anywhere near as good at doing their job as you are doing yours, they’ll be able to give you some great advice on this.
You see, annual PAT tests are proven to prevent danger, and having done our job for as long as we have we know that this is the best frequency to work with.
We can guide you on your PAT Testing Frequency, it may be that we don’t have to test everything every year, such as if your desktop computers are secured with ‘arms’ and cables are tidy in trunking, straight into floor boxes, but not everyone is the same and it’s impossible to determine without first seeing your site, and testing all your equipment initially.
If your site is low risk, like an office based business, we recommend testing everything initially, then again in 12 months. From that we can assess the changes and recommend a new retest period, which could be keep it the same, or extend the term between tests for some or all equipment.
However, in high risk environments we may recommend more frequent tests – on a building sites tools should be tested every 3 months!
Either way, whatever we recommend, the final decision on how you proceed is yours, because as a business owner or appointed duty holder, if an accident occurs it is your responsibility, and in turn, your responsibility for preventing that accident, so only you can decide what maintenance and how often is most suitable for your workplace.