Jim Wallace of Seaward looks at developments in PAT data management software systems
With a competitive portable appliance testing market forcing all contractors and PAT contractors to work more efficiently, linking the test functions of tester to effective results programs has taken on increased importance.
Fortunately, advances in portable appliance testing instrumentation and test data management software means that there are now integrated PAT solutions available that meet the needs of all levels of electrical safety testing.
In very basic terms PAT testers could be regarded simply as test data collection tools that measure and check the safety of electrical appliances. For fully effective risk management programmes and compliance with workplace safety protocols, how this data is acquired, managed and presented takes on even greater importance.
As a result, considerable work has also gone into the development of PAT record keeping software systems to enable the user to build and maintain computerised records of test results so that the collected data can be interrogated and used to control electrical safety programmes in a professional and orderly manner.
In addition, the HSE Memorandum of Guidance on the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989 advises records of maintenance and safety test results should be kept throughout the life of the equipment.
Software controlled safety testing record systems enable ‘real-time’ records to be maintained, which are easily amended and updated. This enables new equipment to be added and the movement of equipment from one location to another to be tracked.
Programs used for asset management purposes in this way can search through records very easily and display the record details significantly faster than making changes to a manual paper based system – and with reduced chances of mistakes being made.
Another advantage is the ease with which re-test schedules can be planned. As the re-test periods for individual items could be anything from three months to four years, it is comparatively easy for test situations and work schedules to become unmanageable. It becomes particularly unwieldy to have someone monitoring a paper record system looking for items which may have remained in use beyond their next test date, particularly when large workplaces or testing contracts can include thousands of appliances.
Now, matching the availability of different testers, a range of results recording programs possess different features and varying levels of sophistication to meet the needs of all types of PAT testing organisations and personnel.
Manual data entry systems
In their most basic form, PAT record keeping programs provide database packages capable of storing and presenting large numbers of test records.
Because most entry-level PAT testers provide simple pass/fail readings and do not have an internal memory for results storage, complementary software programs at this level permit manual entry of results.
With these systems, once test results have been entered there can be a range of data manipulation options available that allow different test report templates to be produced – for example, as PDF, TIF or jpeg files.
In addition some of these elementary or basic level programs also allow different reporting options including the presentation of test histories for individual appliances for comparison or trend analysis purposes.
More elaborate entry level packages also have the ability to link testing carried out to the automatic generation of invoices – including the option to include the costs of any repairs carried out.
Once testing has been undertaken and all data entered, it is also possible to produce special ‘certificates of testing’ that can be displayed in workplaces to highlight the electrical safety measured undertaken.
Direct data download
For those PAT testers equipped with a memory to record results, basic software packages are also available that enable the direct download of test results into database systems.
Of course one of the most important considerations for users of PAT testers incorporating an internal memory is the compatibility between the test instrument and the PC program. Most software packages are compatible with different safety tester output formats – although as the range of test instruments has increased over the years it is worth checking with the supplier of your preferred results recording program that your tester will be compatible.
Some of these types of programs allow both manual and direct download input of data and in broad terms provide the same range of test report options and administrative functions as those described earlier.
However there are some differences that may be attractive to different types of PAT contractor or user: For example some programs enable test results to be downloaded into existing customer or site specific files – while some download programs produce multiple databases with new results listings being created every time a new set of results is entered.
Uploading test data
As PAT testers have become more sophisticated, some have the ability to ‘pre-program’ the instrument with a special testcode (a test routine defined by a numeric sequence) at the start of the working day.
This is referred to as an upload capability and involves the ability to send an appliance number and testcode from PAT records held on a PC program to the instrument. By uploading this information into the tester, re-testing in the field can be speeded up considerably and detailed test histories can be maintained very easily.
As a result software programs that combine data upload and download features can be used to create fairly sophisticated asset registers for customers, grouping appliances by type or location and helping to track the movement of equipment between departments or different parts of a building.
Such high level programs also come with a host of other functions and test templates – including the inclusion of ‘view only’ CD files that enable others to have copies of test records from a parent program that can be viewed without having a copy of the original record-keeping program software.
Other features include sophisticated presentation and reporting options and the ability to link electrical safety testing records with other asset management or maintenance functions - extending the use of these programs for more general facilities management tasks.
For contractors carrying out PAT testing as part of more general facilities management functions, software programs are available that include the ability to include reports and details of other health and safety related checks on equipment such as emergency lighting, fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
Networking options have also been developed for these higher level PAT programs - enabling more than one user to access the program at the same time.
In addition to the range of record keeping database programs a number of special software packages are available to provide specific test management or PAT administrative functions.
One example is an e-scheduler module that systematically interrogates the PAT test database and automatically identifies when equipment will be overdue for re-test – issuing e-mail alerts to notify customers or departments immediately of all re-test requirements or overdue warnings.
In this way this special software can be used to highlight and plan re-test schedules, enabling workloads to be managed efficiently. For testers with an upload capability this program can also directly transfer the appropriate test data into test instruments in preparation for on-site testing.
The system can also be configured to submit formal re-test price quotations with the alerts for a complete test scheduling and costing proposal, boosting repeat business and enhancing the levels of customer support provided.
Another example of ancillary is special time manager software that provides information on the test activity of individual users and engineers – providing such details as time of test, number of tests undertaken and time between jobs.
Analysis of such information enables service or contract managers to understand how often testers are being used, identify improvements in staff training and help field staff to test faster and work more efficiently.
With developments such as these, PAT results recording and data management solutions are available for all organisations involved in portable appliance testing whatever their requirements.
At all levels PAT record keeping programs provide real practical benefits to contractors – reducing costs, increasing revenue and productivity, improving safety and providing a truly professional approach to test data management that can only help in the long term development of their business.
Footnote: To help employers learn more about portable appliance testing Seaward has published a free booklet -
‘A Common Sense Approach to Electrical Safety in the Workplace’. This describes the importance of implementing inspection and testing measures that are appropriate to the particular working environment and which are in keeping with the specific risks posed. Further details call 0191 586 3511 or visit www.seaward.co.uk