PAT Testing Explained: What it is & What Needs PAT Testing

At Dickies Workwear, we pride ourselves on stocking only the highest calibre of workwear products and staying at the cutting edge of safety technology.

Factory workers, construction teams and tradesmen like plumbers and electricians rely on Dickies Workwear products such as overalls & boiler suits , safety boots , workwear tops, work trousers and safety gloves to protect them from hazards like heavy machinery and electrical equipment; however, it’s critically important to ensure that the equipment being used measures up to the required safety standards in the first place.

The role of a PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) professional is to keep equipment safety standards high in the industrial sector by regularly inspecting and testing this equipment.

What does PAT testing stand for?

PAT stands for Portable Appliance Testing.

What is portable appliance testing?

Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the phrase used to describe the check of electrical appliances to make sure that they are safe to use.

What needs PAT testing?

Any portable electrical appliance that has a plug that needs to be connected to a wall socket or generator qualifies as needing to be PAT tested.

What does PAT testing involve?

A qualified PAT testing specialist will check each of the portable electrical appliances earth continuity, lead polarity, and insulation resistance to determine how safe the appliance is. After the check is complete a label will be attached to the appliances detachable plug or cable which includes information on the appliance ID, date of the PAT test and ID or name of the PAT tester who conducted the check.

The Dickies Workwear team recently spoke to industry insider Steve Hinds of Derby PAT to find out more about the role and responsibilities of PAT testers today.  

PAT Interview: What is PAT testing?

Steve Hinds: PAT testing is a structured way of performing simple, but effective electrical tests designed to locate and alert the tester to any inherent weaknesses in items of electrical equipment. Many businesses worry about the stereotype of a PAT tester, who comes along every year to their business and unnecessarily tests everything for a large pot of cash.

The electrical industry in general along with other trades has long suffered this stigma - although some testers haven't helped our cause.

damaged cablePeople and businesses often become blasé about electrical safety, wrongly assuming that if something turns on and works, that it's okay and safe to use.

But, 25% of electrical accidents recorded in businesses each year are a result of faulty appliances.  

Just because something works doesn't mean it’s safe – 0.3 of an amp is enough to cause cardiac arrest!  steve hinds

DS: What tests do you perform?

SH: A PAT test can vary in the type of tests performed, but an insulation resistance test will always be performed - this checks that the insulation surrounding the live and neutral wires is intact and so will prevent short circuit. If the appliance requires earthing then the earth wire continuity will be tested to ensure the resistance is low enough for the safety systems to operate in the case of a fault.

Which means, in a scenario where a live wire has broken and come into contact with a conductive extraneous part, the earth wire resistance will be low (good) enough to trip an RCD in the fuse board and prevent a person from receiving a potentially fatal electric shock.

Other various tests can be performed including earth leakage and touch current (which are useful soft tests for sensitive equipment, so that damage doesn't occur), as well as polarity tests for leads and visual/ functional tests or inspections for ALL items.

Some items such as AC adapters, which charge mobile phones or power switches and routers, only need visual tests; the protection from electric shock depends only on the outer shell which provides double insulation. If these items have visible damage they fail immediately without the need for an electrical test.  

DS: So why do you need PAT testing done?

SH: PAT testing is not required by law; an all too well-aired sentiment when wary PAT testers try to explain to some businesses why they want to charge them for performing electrical safety checks on their premises. Well, specifically it usually satisfies the requirements of your insurers who will want you to show that you've taken measures as a business to comply with various Health and Safety Acts.

  • Health & Safety at Work Act 1974;
  • The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999;
  • The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989;
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992;
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

If you have PAT testing carried out, the testing company should satisfy all of these requirements above. If you choose not to, you must take reasonable steps to maintain electrical safety, which usually means designing your own regimented schedule of testing and inspections.

plug and socketIf you run an electrical business you might have a head start; if you're a coffee shop, do you know the difference between the fuse ratings of plugs? You can train a member of staff to become your site tester and this might be fine for very small businesses with just a few items, but you can't learn much from a half day course can you?  

Not all PAT testers are electricians, but electrician PAT testers will have a larger wealth of knowledge and know-how behind the basic tenets of PAT testing.