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PAT testing – Do You Need It?

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Written by Andy Trainer– Mon 21 May 2012

Almost every person responsible for Health and Safety in the workplace has, at some point, had to consider how important the need for PAT testing is. Many people claim it’s a legal requirement – but is that a fact or a myth?

As we know that Health and Safety is so important to employers – yet surrounded by so much confusion - we offer a 4-day comprehensive Health and Safety course which is accredited by IOSH (the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health). Of course, protecting your employees from harm is your number one priority – but there are lots of other benefits of Health and Safety training as well.

Here are words from our trainer, Andrea, on the subject of PAT testing - and other Health and Safety myths.

What are PAT Tests?

Portable Appliance Testing is simply a way of checking electrical items to ensure they don’t pose a danger.

The Big Question - Do You Need PAT Testing?

Whilst the Health and Safety at Work Act places an obligation on employers to take practical steps – such as PAT testing – to ensure their employees don’t come to harm, the truth is that PAT testing is not a legal requirement. The fact that it’s one of the most frequent – and hard-sold – services by cold callers means that many companies are lead to believe that they have to test their portable appliances every year – at great cost.

Health and Safety in the News

We read so much about daft rules made in the name of health and safety that we could be forgiven for believing that much, if not all, health and safety legislation is stupid, bureaucratic, over-complicated and unnecessary -  a view which seems to be promoted by certain sections of the press at regular intervals.

Headlines such as “Bosses at Butlins Ban Bumper Cars Over Health and Safety Fears”, “Conker Time Dangers” and “Housing Association Warns of Ban on Hanging Baskets Amid Safety Fears” frequently appear and purport to reflect requirements of health and safety legislation – all refuted by the HSE as myth.

You may have read in the newspapers or seen on the television last year a report about the Royal Academy painter who was told to move his easel from Trafalgar Square over health and safety fears.  But you probably won’t have seen the letter sent from Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in response:

“I share your dismay with the petty limitations and restrictions with which some seem intent on burdening those of us who just want to get on with living our lives. I would be interested to know whether there is any real or valid reason for the restrictions you continue to encounter, because I can promise you they have absolutely nothing to do with health and safety.

“Real health and safety is about dealing with risks that are likely to cause serious harm or even death to those in workplaces. I would urge you to challenge those jobsworths who persist in devaluing the real and important stuff by using "elf 'n' safety" as an easy excuse for spoiling everyone else's enjoyment.”

Health and Safety Myth-Busters

The ridicule of health and safety in the press is far more widespread than just the media - the promulgation of these popular myths trivialises genuine health and safety requirements and legislation. This has become such a concern that the HSE has set up a Myth Busters Challenge Panel. The purpose of the panel is to “provide a mechanism for anyone (whether on behalf of a company or organisation, or as an individual), who receives advice or is told that a decision has been taken in the name of health and safety that they believe to be disproportionate or inaccurate, to challenge that advice.

The question of PAT testing under the Electricity at work Regulations is a very good illustration of this point. Here is the advice from the HSE following a question given to the panel:

“Unnecessary electrical safety tests cost office-based businesses an estimated £30 million a year.

“It's a myth that every portable electrical appliance in the workplace needs to be tested once a year - and what's more it's a costly one.

“Misleading advice and advertising, often by companies who offer the testing, is contributing to low-risk businesses such as offices, shops and hotels paying unnecessarily for over-the-top maintenance regimes.

“The law simply requires an employer to ensure that electrical equipment is maintained in order to prevent danger - it does not state that every item has to be tested or how often testing needs to be carried out.

"Testing appliances to ensure that they are safe to use can contribute to an effective maintenance regime, but in a low-risk environment most dangerous defects can be found simply by checking the appliances for obvious signs of damage such as frayed cables.”

So, in essence, although you are not legally required to pat test your electrical equipment annually (or at all); common sense would suggest that if electrical equipment is used in such a way that it is likely to become damaged in use, then inspections at regular timed intervals would be a wise precaution to prevent potential accident or injury.

Still not sure what to do?

First, have a look at the Direct Gov website for details of what is required in terms of employers’ health and safety responsibilities.

Proper Health and Safety training is then needed to ensure you have proper understanding of your responsibilities and practical training in risk assessment, hazard identification and measuring performance. Our 4-day Health and Safety training is accredited by IOSH – and is a firm favourite with our clients.

There is some very useful information, including a very interesting case study on the HSE website, which also gives helpful and practical guidance and advice on portable appliance testing - although probably not such good reading for those jobsworths who use elf ‘n’ safety as an easy excuse for spoiling everyone else’s enjoyment!

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