A common sense approach to appliance safety testing

Jim Wallace of Seaward, the market leader in the field of electrical safety test instrumentation, looks at how PAT technology has evolved to meet the needs of all users.

PAT Snow Business 9

There is a great deal of evidence that the periodic inspection and testing of portable electrical equipment saves lives and prevents fires that may otherwise have caused injuries, loss of life and serious damage to business premises and workplaces.

In this respect, the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989, along with the HSE Memorandum of Guidance and successive IET Codes of Practice, have consistently provided sound advice based on industry experience and the electrical safety needs of the business community.

Although nowhere in the EAWR 1989 is there a specific requirement for the testing of electrical equipment, there is an onus on the dutyholder to ensure that equipment in the workplace is maintained so as to prevent danger. It is this requirement that has introduced the implied need for periodic inspection and testing; without such actions, the inference is that the dutyholder will be unable to establish the potential dangers exposed by faulty or unsafe equipment.

Planned and proactive safety programmes must therefore be capable of detecting potential problems with electrical appliances before they occur and this is the role of preventative maintenance programmes.

As a result, in the event of electrical accidents, property damage or personal injury occurring, portable appliance testing can demonstrate a responsible and diligent approach towards safety that may subsequently be required by the HSE, employers, insurance companies and other interested parties.

Clearly any combined inspection and testing measures should be appropriate to the particular risk posed by the equipment and its environment. For example, smaller offices or workplaces with only a few electrical appliances, and a staff of limited technical ability, might be regarded as relatively low risk environments. Here a responsible attitude might be regarded as a regular process of formal user checks and visual inspection, combined with some limited periodic testing.

A different view, however, might need to be taken by a large organisation, with different departments and having many different types of electrical equipment used by staff. In this case, ensuring the safety of appliances may not only be a matter of ensuring the correct test equipment is available, but also having the ability to show that the right tests have been performed at the right time in the correct sequence – with records of test levels and results.

To meet this need, continuous technical innovation has ensured that portable appliance test instrumentation has kept pace with the changing demands of the workplace – and can successfully meet the needs of everyone who has a responsibility for ensuring the safe use of electrical equipment.

The appliance of testing science

Over the 25-year period of the EAWR 1989, PAT instrumentation has incorporated constant technological innovation that has made testing faster, more efficient and cost effective for those involved – and all of this has been achieved without any compromise to the integrity of the testing being undertaken.

The initial demand for in service electrical appliance testers was met largely by the availability of two distinct types of tester. At the basic level there were relatively simple to operate pass/fail checkers capable of carrying out fundamental tests and providing an immediate ‘go/no go’ display. For more demanding PAT applications, particularly in larger organisations, more sophisticated testers were available that incorporated a greater range of tests and had the ability to store and download test data into PC based record keeping systems.

Over the years these broad distinctions between manual and automatic testers have remained apparent, but the obvious differentiation between the two is closing. All PATs have much greater functionality with the ability to link to specialist accessories for more comprehensive testing.

In addition, to extend the performance of entry level manual testers, a specialist new mobile PAT App provides easy access to a host of special test data handling options, as well as barcode scanning, label printing, photo tagging and other complementary test functions.


Overall, these moves to increase the capability, versatility and functionality of PAT testers have been driven by both technical testing needs and the requirements of an expanding but relatively mature marketplace.

As successive IET Codes of Practice have highlighted the benefits of different types of electrical test, then PAT test manufacturers have responded by including, for example, the necessary technology to test appliance leads and 3 phase equipment, test RCD trip times, provide different options for insulation test voltages and utilise specialist test currents for earth continuity testing.

Alongside these changing technical demands, recognition of the growing maturity of the PAT market has also been the driver of innovation. For the modern PAT tester, time is money and competitive pressures mean that tests must be undertaken quickly and efficiently, but without in any way affecting the accuracy and reliability of the test results.

To meet his need a whole host of special features and PAT accessories have been introduced. The introduction of barcode labelling of products with automatic recognition of test protocols by the test instrument was an early development, and this was followed by the introduction of Bluetooth connectivity with test accessories such as label printers to speed the test process.


Lightweight, battery powered testers have further improved portability factors and reduced the downtime between tests. Improvements in test management software has allowed records to be updated automatically, reports and certificates to be produced and advance test schedules to be generated.

In the latest generation Apollo PATs all of these advances have been combined to both meet the updated technical requirements of the IET Code of Practice and comply with the risk-based approach emphasised by the HSE.

As well as comprehensive electrical test functions, the most advanced multi-purpose PAT tester is now equipped with an onboard risk management tool to help determine re-test intervals. This feature is included alongside a built-in digital camera to enable high quality images to be tagged against appliance records for completely traceable electrical safety record keeping and maintenance.

Few could dispute that the process of electrical inspection and testing has made an important contribution to improving and maintaining safety in the workplace. Against this background, continuous test innovation, with a common sense approach at the centre of technology improvements, means that adequate electrical safety measures can be effectively maintained in all workplaces without the imposition of an overly excessive test regime.

A special White Paper, ‘The Preventative Role of Portable Appliance Testing – 25 years of the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989’, is available as a free download from the website below.