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Pat Testing Explained

In one paragraph (tl;dr)

If you have a business (commercial, industry, rental, holiday lets, hotel, etc) then you need to get electrical equipment PAT tested. The person doing the testing must be qualified and competent. Testing frequency depends on lots of factors. You need to hold records. If you ignore PAT, you can and will be held liable in the event of an accident. However, it's probably cheaper than you thought.


Read on for more.

In Detail

What is PAT testing?


Portable Appliance Testing, or PAT, is prescribed routine inspection and testing of any electrical devices - not just portable ones - that plug into a socket, or are wired into a fixed outlet (such as cookers). Don't let the word Portable confuse you - this applies to handheld devices such as hairdryers, right through to fridges, freezers and cookers, including such a variety of appliances as laptop chargers and 110V construction power tools. In general, if it uses electricity and isn't a fixed light, it probably falls under PAT.


PAT is actually used as the colloquial term for the in-service inspection and testing of electrical appliances and equipment, and is relevant to any electrical appliance which has the potential to cause harm or damage.


Who does it apply to?


PAT applies to any business or organisation in which mains-powered electrical appliances come into contact with employees, other people as part of a financial transaction (such as people renting a holiday home), or the public. This includes schools, factories, offices, hotels, Bed and Breakfast premises, rented houses and flats, holiday lets, shops...


What does it involve?


A prescribed set of inspections and electrical tests. The exact tests vary depending on the type of device, but the goal is to ensure as far as possible that the device being tested is wholly safe for use at the point of testing.


What legislation governs this?


Actually, PAT testing itself, plus the frequency of testing, is not specifically legislated for. The relevant legislation includes:

  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, which states that "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicabel, the health, safety and the welfare at work of all his/her employees." The Act also places a duty of care for the safety of non-employees in some circumstances.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, which state that "Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is so constructed or adapted as to be suitable for the purpose for which it is used or provided".
  • The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.
  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which require you to ensure that workplace equipment is maintained in efficient working order and in good repair.

Individual compliance with these regulations from scratch would be nightmarishly complex. Hence, PAT provides a way to tick a number of boxes; if you practice appropriate PAT testing, then should an accident arise, you will show that you made reasonable effort to satisfy your legal obligations, which considerably reduces your potential risk of liability.


In addition, your business insurance may require PAT to be conducted, and may be invalidated should you forget or choose not to.


Is this an example of health and safety gone mad?


On average, 30 fatal electrical accidents happen each year in the UK. 25% of reportable electrical accidents overall involve appliances falling under PAT.


PAT both helps avoid unnecessary accidents from happening in the first place, and ensures that should an accident happen despite precautions, you may not be held liable. If an accident occurs and you do not practice appropriate portable appliance testing according to IET guidelines, you can and possibly will be held liable.


People can be and are killed or injured by unsafe appliances; employers and organisations can be and are held legally and financially responsible for these incidents, often to their considerable cost.


How often do I need to get appliances PAT tested?


Often, PAT engineers will assume everything needs to be tested annually. However, IET guidelines are very clear that this is not actually the case.


The testing interval depends on the following factors:

  • The industry or environment the appliance is being used in (eg school, hotel, construction site, office, rented property)
  • The type of appliance (eg portable, mobile, fixed, handheld, IT equipment)
  • The "class" of equipment, which is a function of whether it needs to be earthed, amongst other things

A Class 1 appliance on a construction site may need testing monthly, according to IET guidelines, whereas a Class 2 mobile device in a shop might not need scheduled testing at all, just 2-yearly formal inspections. We can advise on the exact requirements individually.


Landlords of rented properties should note that the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 strongly advise that testing should occur at the beginning of each tenancy, as this is regarded as the point of "supply" of any equipment used by the tenant.


Who can do the tests? Can I do them myself?


The person undertaking PAT must be competent: this can be demonstrated by a suitable level of training and formal certification, plus equipment calibration and certification and satisfactory record-keeping, amongst other things. If you can not demonstrate these factors then you will not be regarded as competent, and therefore your PAT testing will leave the employer liable to prosecution in the event of an accident.


Some larger organisations with lots of regular testing do send employees to become certified, and invest in the necessary equipment. If you choose this approach, we can recommend a training partner to help you achieve this in-house.


It's worth pointing out that we regularly - every week - PAT test appliances that have been tested by formal organisations which claim to employ competent engineers, but which have clearly and demonstrably not had even the most basic inspections done properly. Some of these appliances are outright dangerous. If you pay peanuts for your PAT testing, you'll get monkeys.


What paperwork do I need?


Typically, each appliance will need its own record, with an overall register of appliances also being held, and miscellaneous other paperwork to record repairs, withdrawal of equipment, etc. Devonia Electrical will typically maintain a central set of records and provide a copy of this for your compliance. We will also advise on exactly what you need to hold on file and help you achieve this.


How much does this cost?


PAT is not greatly labour-intensive, and relatively inexpensive. However, be wary of organisations who charged a fixed, low rate for each appliance - in our experience that's a recipe for a poorly skilled engineer to rush through tests and put "Pass" stickers on appliances which do not meet basic IET guidelines and in some cases are outright dangerous.

In contrast, organisations who charge per hour are more likely to properly test each appliance and make sure things are done by the book.


Contact us for details of costs - the typical answer is "less than you think!"


Disclaimer: information is provided for convenience and guidance and is not guaranteed to be correct. Errors and omissions may occur, and real situations may be far more complex than a brief description can allow. If in doubt, contact us directly for expert advice.

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