We get asked this all the time – sometimes from a safety perspective but more often we find that people are most interested in understanding PAT testing legal requirements.

PAT testing

So here goes – Williams ECL’s definitive guide to PAT testing and your business or industry’s likely legal obligations.

  1. What is a PAT test?

A PAT test is a routine inspection of some types of electrical appliance to check they are safe to use. Its purpose is to prevent electrical accidents in the workplace.

A full PAT test should include both a visual inspection and a more in-depth check using specialist PAT testing equipment.  This test includes earth continuity, lead polarity, and insulation resistance checks.

Some appliances only need a reduced test, called a PAT insulation test.

At the end of a PAT test, every appliance should be marked ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ and the results recorded for audit purposes.

Not all electrical items need to be PAT tested.  We explain more in the section ‘Which items should be PAT tested?’ further down this page.

  1. What does ‘PAT’ stand for?

‘PAT’ stands for ‘Portable Appliance Testing’.

There is no definition of what a ‘Portable Appliance’ is in the current legislation, however the standard interpretation is “any appliance that has a plug attached to it and plugs into a wall outlet”.

Because of this, the word ‘portable’ is a bit misleading. There are actually 7 categories of appliance which should be considered for PAT testing or, at least, visual inspections:

–   Fixed appliances
–   Stationary appliances
–   IT appliances
–   Moveable appliances
–   Portable appliances
–   Cables and chargers
–   Hand Held appliances

We explain more about each of these categories in the section ‘What are the categories of electrical appliance in PAT testing?’ further down this page.

  1. Is PAT testing a legal obligation?

PAT testing is not, in itself, a legal obligation.

However, current UK legislation states that businesses must maintain electrical equipment in a safe condition.

They also have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of employees and the public.

Because PAT testing is one of the most effective ways to do this, particularly for high risk or large, complex environments, it has become a standard way of meeting this legal obligation.

  1. What are the penalties if I don’t meet my legal obligations?

Depending on the severity of the situation, the penalty for not meeting legal obligations on electrical appliance safety can be as high as 2 years’ imprisonment, as well as an unlimited financial penalty.

  1. Who is responsible for electrical appliance safety?

The ‘Employer’ is responsible for electrical appliance safety.

In larger businesses a ‘competent person’ is often appointed by the employer, whose role is to make sure the company is compliant.

  1. Which items should be PAT tested?

There are 2 main factors which determine whether or not an item should be PAT tested:

–   The electrical ‘class’ of the item
–   The ‘category’ of the item

We explain more about these in the following sections.


  1. What are ‘electrical classes’ in PAT testing?

Electrical appliances are mainly categorised as Class 1, 2 or 3, with Class 1 being the most dangerous and Class 3 the least dangerous.

The class of an appliance helps determine whether it needs to be PAT tested and to what degree.  Class 1 appliances need a full PAT test, Class 2 appliances need a PAT insulation test, and Class 3 appliances don’t need to be PAT tested at all.

Class 1 appliances
This type of electrical equipment has only basic insulation and relies on an earth for protection – for example photocopiers, washing machines, toasters, mobile phone chargers.

Class 2 appliances
This type of electrical equipment has extra insulation and so doesn’t rely on an earth for protection, which makes it safer – for example TVs, hair straighteners, drills.

Class 3 appliances
Class 3 appliances are low voltage items and are the safest class of electrical appliance. Their charging leads may need to be PAT tested – for example torches, laptops, cameras.

  1. What are the ‘categories’ of electrical appliance in PAT testing?

As mentioned in section 2, there are 7 categories of electrical appliance which require some level of testing, either a simple visual inspection, or a full PAT test:

–   Fixed appliances
–   Stationary appliances
–   IT appliances
–   Moveable appliances
–   Portable appliances
–   Cables and chargers
–   Hand Held appliances

  1. How often should items be PAT tested?

There are no specific rules for the frequency of PAT tests.  However, the regulations say that the level of precaution taken should be ‘appropriate’ to the risk.

There are 3 main criteria which determine frequency of testing:

–   the risk level of the working environment
–   the electrical class of the appliance
–   the category of the appliance

The Health and Safety Executive also recommends taking the following into consideration as necessary:

–   manufacturer’s recommendations
–   the age of the equipment
–   frequency of use
–   foreseeable misuse of the equipment
–   effects of any modifications or repairs
–   the history of the item

  1. How do I know if my business is high, medium or low risk?

There are 3 main factors that are taken into account when assessing the electrical risk of a business for PAT testing:

  1. The risk level of the environment
  2. The type of equipment being used
  3. Who will be interacting with the equipment

For example, in an office setting where equipment is relatively static and there is a regular team using it day to day, there is much less risk than on a construction site.

On a construction site, hand-held, potentially dangerous equipment is in regular use and groups of workers tend to switch in and out and therefore the risk is much higher.

  1. Can my business carry out its own PAT tests?

Yes, your business can carry out its own PAT tests, as long as the person doing the testing is a ‘competent’ person.
This means they should:

–   have adequate knowledge of electricity
–   have adequate experience of electrical work
–   know how to carry out a visual inspection
–   know how to carry out a PAT test
–   understand potential hazards & precautions to take when PAT testing
–   be able to decide whether it’s safe for PAT testing to continue

If you decide to do your own PAT testing we would strongly recommend taking a PAT testing course as it’s important to perform the PAT tests correctly.

You will also need to invest in some PAT testing equipment.

I hope this simple PAT testing guide has been helpful.

If you need a professional opinion with any of the above, call me today on 07917 181068 or contact me for a quote.  Even if just for a second opinion, it’s always better to be safe and consult a fully qualified electrician.