SMEs urged to check Portable Electrical Equipment

This week, a major commercial Insurer, Liverpool Victoria has highlighted the importance of making sure that portable appliance checks are done regularly in SMEs.  Electric shock or burns incidents that occur at work are often caused by portable electrical equipment.  Faulty electrical equipment is also a common cause of fires, second only to arson.

With Health and Safety Pressures for employers greater than ever before, the average small business owner has many pressures to face during their working day and the cost of health and safety processes can be prohibitive for some businesses.

Electrical safety in the workplace is governed by the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.  They require that electrical systems, which includes portable electrical equipment, shall at all times be constructed and maintained “so far as reasonably practical, to prevent danger”.

The regulations are goal-setting rather than prescriptive and this places the onus on SMEs to take responsibility for this and do adequate risk assessment for their business.

So what are the facts?

Well, it’s a myth that every portable electrical appliance in the workplace has to be tested annually.  On the contrary, the HSE has always advocated a “proportionate risk-based” approach which is generally better for the SME.  For PAT testing this can potentially involve 3 steps:-

  • Visual User Checks that may be carried out by any employee that has received appropriate instruction – this can be things like, looking for damaged leads or plus, damage to the outer cover and other ‘visual’ items.  Formal documentation of both training and checks is recommended.
  • Formal Visual Inspection may be carried out by trained persons with the appropriate equipment and supervision.  For offices and other low-risk environments, the interval for this should be between 6 months and 4 years and for other environments, intervals of between 1 week and 2 years are generally recommended by the HSE, depending on the severity of the risk.  These will generally involve more in-depth inspection which may involved removing covers etc.  Again, formal documentation of training and checks is recommended.
  • Combined Inspection and Testing should be carried out periodically and should be completed by a trained and duly equipped person.  Although a competent electrical contractor or PAT tester is not necessarily needed in a low risk environment (according to LV), this is often the preferred method for SMEs which has an inevitable cost.


Faulty equipment, identified by any method must be removed from use until it has been repaired and then retested, but surprisingly there is no legal requirement to label equipment that has been inspected or tested.

However, record keeping and/or labelling can be a useful management tool for the employer to demonstrate that they have carried out adequate risk assessment and that their scheme is effective.

In today’s litigious society, we would definitely endorse the documentation of health and safety procedures and checks.

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