Facilities managers should regularly get electrical appliances reviewed to safeguard employees from shocks and reduce fire risk, says Richard Galvin
7 April 2016 | By Richard Galvin
Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that 1 per cent of all industrial accidents are a result of electrocution from faulty or badly maintained electrical equipment.
As the HSE's Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states that it's an employer's responsibility to ensure that work equipment is maintained and in good working order, organisations should regularly review their equipment to safeguard employees from electric shocks and reduce fire hazards in the workplace.
2. Calculating the risk
A risk assessment should be carried out on all appliances, taking into account the environment, its users, the type of equipment, the frequency of its use, and the risk it presents. When assessing the risk of an appliance, the maintenance regime should be proportionate to the severity of the risk. Consider the following:
- Environment - office-based equipment and appliances within a low-risk environment are likely to suffer less damage than equipment in a demanding environment such as a construction site or healthcare facility, where equipment needs to function at a constant rate.
- Usage - portable and handheld appliances are more likely to sustain damage than fixed appliances. The frequency of an appliance's use will also affect its risk score.
Portable Appliance Testing (PAT testing) is not a legal requirement, however, employers are obliged to ensure that electrical equipment is maintained to prevent danger to users. Although it is not stated how or how often this should be assessed, by taking a risk-based approach employers can consider the equipment present, taking into account its purpose and how regularly it is used to develop an effective maintenance regime.
The recommended regularity of inspection and in-service PAT testing depends on the equipment in question. Class 1 appliances (such as office IT equipment) increase the risk of danger as they rely on the continuity of the protective conductor from the plug to the appliance. In an office, it is recommended that Class 1 IT equipment should be visually inspected every 24 months and a combined inspection (visual inspection and PAT test) carried out every 60 months.
It is also recommended that portable equipment in offices, such as extension leads and handheld equipment should be PAT-tested every 24 months and visually inspected every 12 months.
In other locations, the recommendation is that the frequency of inspections and PAT tests ranges from every three months on all 110V equipment used on construction sites to every 12 months on Class 1 equipment in schools.
As far as the rental industry is concerned, all equipment should be visually checked as soon as it is returned from hire. This usually involves the equipment being serviced, a PAT test carried out, and a printed label attached to the item showing the test data. Before being redistributed on hire, the item would have a PDI (pre-delivery inspection) where once again a visual inspection is undertaken and a further PAT test carried out so that the equipment is delivered to the customer with a current test label applied.
4. What should the test include?
PAT testing, as standard, is carried out to ensure the safety of equipment. The process needn't require a vast amount of time and resource but for it to be reliable, there are certain criteria the test should include. It's essential that PAT tests be carried out by a competent person with knowledge of the relevant tests required and capable of safely isolating equipment.
Key inspection criteria include:
- Visually checking the appliance for suitability of use, including switching, wiring, connections, use of the correct fuse and ensuring that the plug is in good condition.
- Assessing the continuity of the earth wire and that the polarity of the lead is correct i.e. the plug is wired correctly. This test verifies earth continuity and insulation resistance.
- Checking the functionality of the equipment. Although it is not a legal requirement, it is recommended that all test results are recorded using a methodical system.
5. Common problems
As with any electrical testing, common problems can arise. Not conducting tests in the required order may hinder the results making them unreliable. For example, if the insulation test on a Class 1 appliance is carried out first, it's not clear if the earth path is good. If the earth path isn't tested and proved to be in a good working condition, you're unable to rely on the insulation test.
Only doing one earth bond test is another problem that may come up, especially if an appliance has more than one outer part with separate earthed parts. In this case, each part would need to be measured separately. If there are multiple earth paths, taking the worst-case reading is best practice, as opposed to taking the average.
PAT testing may sometimes seem like an additional and costly task, however, undertaking PAT tests regularly will provide a safe working environment for staff, visitors and site users.
Richard Galvin is UK operations support director at Andrews Sykes