Portable Appliance Testing Frequently Asked Questions

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Portable Appliance Testing Frequently Asked Questions

There are many common myths about portable appliance testing (PAT) – find out the key facts about the inspection and testing of portable electrical equipment in this bulletin.

What is portable appliance testing?

Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Most electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. However, it is essential to understand that visual examination is an essential part of the process because some types of electrical safety defect can’t be detected by testing alone.
A relatively brief user check (based upon simple training and perhaps assisted by the use of a brief checklist) can be a very useful part of any electrical maintenance regime. However, more formal visual inspection and testing by a competent person may also be required at appropriate intervals, depending upon the type of equipment and the environment in which it is used.

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition. However, the Regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently (ie they don’t make inspection or testing of electrical appliances a legal requirement, nor do they make it a legal requirement to undertake this annually). The law simply requires an employer to ensure that their electrical equipment is maintained in order to prevent danger. It does not say how this should be done or how often. Employers should take a risk-based approach, considering the type of equipment and what it is being
used for. If it is used regularly and moved a lot e.g. a floor cleaner or a kettle, testing (along with visual checks) can be an important part of an effective maintenance regime giving employers confidence that they are doing what is necessary to help them meet their legal duties.

How frequently do I need to test my electrical appliances?

The frequency of inspection and testing depends upon the type of equipment and the environment it is used in. For example, a power tool used on a construction site should be examined more frequently than a lamp in a hotel bedroom. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have produced a guidance document on maintaining portable electrical equipment, containing information on suggested frequencies of inspection/testing, which can be downloaded for free here.

Do I need to keep records of testing, and should I label any appliances tested?

There is no legal requirement to label equipment that has been inspected or tested, nor is there a requirement to keep records of these activities. However, a record and / or labelling can be a useful management tool for monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the maintenance scheme – and to demonstrate that a scheme exists.

Do I need to have an electrician carry out portable appliance testing work?

The person doing testing work needs to competent to do it. In many low-risk environments, a sensible (competent) member of staff can undertake visual inspections if they have enough knowledge and training. However, when undertaking combined inspection and testing, a greater level of knowledge and experience is needed, and the person will need:

  • the right equipment to do the tests
  • the ability to use this test equipment properly
  • the ability to properly understand the test results

User checks, visual inspection and portable appliance tests

User checks

These should be carried out before most electrical equipment is used, with the equipment disconnected. Users should look for:

  • damage to the lead including fraying, cuts or heavy scuffing, e.g. from floor box covers;
  • damage to the plug, e.g., to the cover or bent pins;
  • tape applied to the lead to join leads together;
  • coloured wires visible where the lead joins the plug (the cable is not being gripped where it enters the plug);
  • damage to the outer cover of the equipment itself, including loose parts or screws;
  • signs of overheating, such as burn marks or staining on the plug, lead or piece of equipment;
  • equipment that has been used or stored in unsuitable conditions, such as wet or dusty environments or where water spills are possible; and
  • cables trapped under furniture or in floor boxes.

Visual inspections

To carry out a visual inspection you don’t need to be an electrician, but you do need to know what to look for and you must also have sufficient knowledge to avoid danger to yourself and others.

Simple training can equip you (or a member of staff) with some basic electrical

knowledge to enable you to carry out a visual inspection competently.

As part of the visual inspection, you should consider whether:

  • the electrical equipment is being used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions;
  • the equipment is suitable for the job;
  • there has been any change of circumstances; and
  • the user has reported any issues.

The visual inspection should include the checks carried out by the user and, where possible, will include removing the plug cover and checking internally that:

  • there are no signs of internal damage, overheating or water damage to the plug;
  • the correct fuse is in use and it’s a proper fuse, not a piece of wire, nail etc;
  • the wires including the earth, where fitted, are attached to the correct terminal
  • the terminal screws are tight;
  • the cord grip is holding the outer part (sheath) of the cable tightly; and no bare wire is visible other than at the terminals.

For equipment/cables fitted with moulded plugs only the fuse can be checked

How do I ensure the safety of electrical equipment?

Encourage users to look at the supply cable to the electrical equipment before they use it (user check).

  • Encourage users to look at electrical equipment before they use it (user check).
  • Make sure that all portable equipment is visually inspected at initial intervals which could be between six months and four years, depending on the type of equipment.
  • Arrange for equipment that is not double insulated to have a portable appliance test (including leads) at initial intervals which could be between one and five years, depending on the type of equipment.
  • Ensure that damaged or faulty equipment is recognised, removed from use without delay and either:
    ▬ repaired by someone competent (i.e. with suitable training, skills and knowledge for the task to prevent injury to themselves or others); or
    ▬ disposed of to prevent its further use – consult your local authority about arrangements for disposing of electrical equipment.


  • Review your maintenance system to determine whether you could decrease or increase your inspection and/or testing intervals. You may find it useful to keep records of all inspections and tests, and to label equipment with the result and date of the test, but there is no legal requirement to do either of these things.

For more information or support, contact us on info@wpsafety.co.uk or 01268 649 006.

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