Nathan Barwell from electrical safety test equipment manufacturer Seaward considers how PAT technology continues to evolve and its use for general safety management applications.
There’s little doubt 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, IET Codes of Practice, and most recently British Standards 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 duty holder 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 duty holder will be unable to establish the potential dangers posed by faulty or unsafe equipment.
Planned and proactive safety measures must therefore be capable of detecting potential problems with 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.
A proportionate response
Clearly, 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 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 to meet the needs of everyone who has a responsibility for ensuring the safe use of electrical equipment.
Over the years, electrical safety test instrumentation has evolved to make 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 broad distinctions between manual and automatic testers have also remained, but the obvious differentiation between the two continues to close. All portable appliance testers now have much greater functionality with remote download of results and the ability to link to specialist accessories for more comprehensive testing.
Also, as successive IET Codes of Practice have highlighted the benefits of different types of electrical tests, PAT manufacturers have responded by including, for example, the necessary technology to test fixed appliances and three-phase equipment, test RCD trip times, provide different options for insulation test voltages, and utilise specialist test currents for earth continuity testing, among many more.
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 affecting the accuracy and reliability of the test results.
To meet the need to be efficient, a whole host of special features and 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 up the test process. More recently, remote download to mobile devices has allowed the modern tester to quickly send test data back to the office for processing.
Lightweight, battery-powered testers have further improved portability factors and reduced the downtime between tests. Improvements in test management software have allowed records to be updated automatically, reports and certificates to be produced and advanced test schedules to be generated.
All round safety management
With developments such as these, the versatility of modern testing technology is increasingly being used as part of more general health and safety inspections and assessments. 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 retest 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 record keeping.
These advances mean that visual evidence of all workplace health and safety equipment can be recorded and tagged against inspection records. In addition, the built-in risk assessment capability allows the consideration of a variety of different workplace hazards and corrective actions to be planned and documented easily.
In this way, modern testers with electrical safety as their core function also have the ability to create and store health and safety inspections outside of portable appliance testing, including fire safety and emergency lighting systems.
It’s clear that continuous PAT test innovation combined with a common sense approach at the centre of technology improvements bears fruit. Put simply, it means that important safety measures can be effectively maintained and applied in all workplaces without the imposition of an overly excessive test regime.