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Portable appliance testing – ‘Do I really have to do it every year?’

Posted by Tracy Seward

According to the HSE nearly a quarter of all reportable electrical incidents involve portable equipment and the vast majority of these accidents result in electric shock. Therefore maintenance of portable appliances must be considered.

Portable appliance testing is still causing confusion for some businesses. The confusion arises from people not being clear about which items of equipment need to be tested and how often the testing should be done.

The myth is that portable appliances are required to be tested on an annual basis by a competent electrician. Is this really necessary or is it a money-making scheme by companies who offer this type of testing?

Regulation 4(2) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 states ‘as may be necessary to prevent danger, all systems shall be maintained so as to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, such danger’. However, it is noted that the regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom and how frequently. So how can portable appliances be maintained to comply with the regulations?

Maintenance can include visual inspection, testing, repair and replacement of equipment. Maintenance will determine whether the equipment is fully serviceable or remedial action is required. Routine inspection and appropriate testing, where necessary, form part of an overall strategy for ensuring that work equipment is maintained in a safe condition.

Cost-effective maintenance of portable electric equipment can be achieved by a combination of:
• Check undertaken by the user
• Formal visual inspections by a trained person
• Combined inspections and tests carried out by an electrically competent person or contractor

Therefore when thinking about the testing of portable appliances it is appropriate to adopt a risk-based approach which takes into account the type of equipment, what the equipment is being used for and its environment in which it is being used. For example, equipment such as drills and portable grinders used on construction sites in harsh and sometimes wet environments may require frequent visual inspections and testing may be appropriate. Conversely, for equipment in an office environment, such as a computer, testing may be required rarely.

It is noted that both inspection and testing should be carried out by someone who is competent, however, this could be a trained member of staff who has sufficient information and knowledge about what to look for and what is acceptable.

On a final note, the belief that electrical equipment needs to be tested every year was included in the HSE ‘myth of the month’ and was recently an issue raised in Professor Lofstedts (November 2011) review of health and safety legislation as a example of a regulation that is being applied too widely and requested clarification to stop over compliance.

To discuss this or any other aspect of Health and Safety please call us on 0870 4464201 or contact us here

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