Portable electrical equipment & Fixed wiring installation – what’s the difference and what should we do to know they are safe?
Electrical Installations/Fixed Wire
All electrical installations require a periodic inspection and condition reports to ensure the electrical installation is safe for continued use. The fixed installation will comprise of the incoming supply cables, switchgear, distribution boards, fixed wiring of the installation and the electrical accessories (socket outlets, light switches) etc.
Testing electrical installations
The frequency of testing should be often enough to ensure that any deterioration or defects in the installation that may lead to danger are identified.
Whist the specific frequency of testing is not set as a legal requirement. The IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) gives guidance based on the type of premises. For example, a premises such as a shop or office the maximum period is 5 years, industrial premises and residential accommodation is 3 years.
The above frequency may only be a recommendation, it is a recognised and accepted standard and if they are not followed (or there is not an alternative system of ongoing maintenance and inspection with records) it would be difficult to demonstrate that all reasonably practicable steps were being taken to ensure the safety of the electrical installation.
It may be that following the inspection it is recommended that the testing be more or less frequent, this should be detailed in the report.
Any part of an installation identified that may have become defective between tests should be de-energised where safe to do so and an approved electrical contractor contacted to investigate and make safe.
Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)
Portable equipment appliances include:
- Stationary equipment such as refrigerators and dishwashers.
- IT equipment, computer, printers and telecom equipment.
- Portable equipment 18Kg or less that is intended to be moved while in operation (toaster, kettles etc.).
- Movable equipment 18 Kg or less in mass and not fixed (welding set or electrical fire etc.).
- Hand held equipment intended to be held in the hand during normal use.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition. However, the Regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently i.e. they don’t make inspection or testing of electrical appliances a legal requirement, nor do they make it a legal requirement to undertake this annually.
Whether you decide to test your appliances and at what frequency is your choice. You should take a risk based approach, considering the type of equipment and what it is being used for. For example, a power tool used on a construction site may need to be examined more frequently than a lamp in a hotel bedroom.
Formal Visual Inspections
You should also consider regular visual inspections of your equipment. This does not involve the removal of any parts or guards. A thorough visual inspection that should consider issues such as; signs of damage and overheating, the cord grip is holding the outer part (sheath) of the cable tightly, no bare wires are visible and the equipment is being used correctly and in line with manufacturer’s instructions. These visual inspections can be carried out by responsible managers but should be formal, regular and recorded.
You should also implement and encourage pre-user checks, these should be carried out by the user before the equipment is used, hand tools for example. Staff should also understand the need to report any concerns regarding electrical equipment and not to use it until their concern is resolved.
Ensure all electrical Equipment is covered
Ensure when arranging both the PAT testing and Inspection Condition Report that the fixed electrical equipment (For example, wired-in water heater) be tested as part of either inspection of the fixed wiring or covered by a portable appliance testing programme.
Who should complete the PAT testing and Electrical Installations Condition Reports?
These tests should be only performed and certified by an accredited qualified and competent person through a registered inspection body. These are typically members of the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) or the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA).