How often should you PAT test electrical equipment?

PAT testing is a process for checking electrical equipment that uses a plug to connect to the mains power to make sure it’s safe to continue using.

You need to get such electrical appliances, referred to as portable appliances (because they’re portable from the mains by unplugging) PAT tested regularly to make sure they maintain the right safety standards.

Whilst being inspected (part of the test process) by a competent engineer, faults or defects may be found; these should be repaired (where possible), usually referred to as remedial repairs, and this process is called preventative maintenance; something you’re required to do by law.

Remedial repairs usually consist of repairs to the plug inside and out, including replacement of it, replacement fuses where the fuse is incorrect or blown, and repairs to the existing cable where the cable has been damaged.

Other repairs may be required that are not classed as remedial, where additional costs may be charged, including replacing the full cable if it is damaged beyond repair or not to British Standard, such as a foreign plug or counterfeit import.

If the appliance itself is faulty the engineer may not be able to do the required repair as a specialist will be needed, so the engineer will most likely fail it. In this situation he’ll advise what action to take, and when you’ve done that you’ll need to get us back to retest the appliance.

When the inspection is complete, depending on the appliance the engineer will either pass it, label it and move on, or carry out electrical tests using a PAT tester machine.

If those tests are deemed acceptable the appliance will pass and the engineer will label and record it.

If it fails any of these tests the appliance will fail overall and the engineer will recommend what action to take, which may include repair and retest, or replacing the appliance.

This process should then be repeated at an interval proportionate to the risk of the appliance, it’s use and the environment it is being used in. This needs to be determined by a risk assessment by a person competent in electrical safety.

This could be someone in house, an independent fire risk assessor or a suitably trained representative from the Pat testing company if there is one available. If you’re using a contractor for this task it could cost anywhere from a day’s wage to thousands of pounds, depending on the size of the task.

The risk assessment results will determine what further action needs taking such as full tests, only visual inspections etc and how often the appliances need this doing. This could be anywhere from 1 to 3 monthly for high risk environments to 5 yearly for fixed equipment in low risk workplaces. There are hundreds of possibilities and the whole process becomes very complicated; you’ll need the assessor to review the system regularly, and the PAT company to manage the handling of it, which will lead to more charges.

Putting a risk based PAT testing frequency in place can cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds which is why most companies prefer to go with the old fail safe option of annual PAT tests.

It is deemed acceptable by insurers, health and safety etc that annual tests in most environments is the best course of action for maintaining safe electrical equipment.

Annual PAT tests are proven to keep on top of equipment safety and done right any faults are usually spotted and repaired before they become an issue.

Annual PAT tests also work out a lot cheaper in the long run, and are easier to budget for; it’s also a lot easier to manage.

The responsibility for putting in place a programme to maintain safe electrical equipment is yours so make sure the decision you’re making is the right one, based on the most appropriate frequency for maintaining safe electrical equipment. Don’t try to save a few pounds now that might cost you thousands, or your freedom, later.