Business owners in the UK have a duty to ensure that their employees are working within a safe ecosystem. This is especially important when electrical equipment is being used as the hazards can often be life-threatening. There is, however, much confusion regarding employer’s duties in respect of testing and maintaining electrical equipment.
Although there is health and safety regulation which applies to portable electrical equipment in the workplace it tends to be covered in a wider sense and is often open to interpretation. for example, The Health and Safety at Work Act requires employers to ensure their employees are not placed in unnecessary danger there is no specific mention of electrical equipment – more that it is included within the general subject.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 are more specific but, again, require that reasonable measures be taken to prevent, so far as is reasonably functional, a danger. They do require a set requirement for specialized testing of portable electrical equipment.
In most situations, particularly in offices and shops the risk is comparatively low and it is only necessary that a competent person undertakes a visual inspection at a regular interval. shared hazards will include instances where outer casings and insulation materials have been damaged. Where this is the case the equipment should be replaced or repaired by a qualified engineer. There are, however, instances where it may only be necessary for a plug to be correctly fitted or a loose cable to be routed where it can not be easily damaged or cause a trip danger. Any competent person can carry out such checks and it is often all that is needed.
Basic Checks on Portable Electrical Equipment in Low Risk Environments
The best way of checking items such as portable electric heaters, office machines and domestic appliances in the work place is to perform a visual inspection. Things to look out for include:
- Damage to cables such as scuffed, cut or broken insulation materials;
- Damage to plugs and connectors;
- Cables which have been joined or repaired with tape;
- Equipment being used in places which are not appropriate – for example in damp or dusty atmospheres;
- Evidence of over-heating;
- Loose parts or screws;
- Incorrect fuses for the kind of equipment in use;
- Over use of extension leads or where several plugs are sharing a single strength-point.
High Risk Areas and Operations
There are, however, certain areas and work operations where additional care is required. for example: where portable electrical equipment is used on construction sites, out of doors or near to flammable or explosive materials. Equipment used in these circumstances will need to be kept in good order and checked regularly to ensure that hazards are reduced. It is advisable that such equipment is professionally tested at frequent intervals and visual inspections every time it is used. Individual businesses will usually have a set procedure but a formal PAT test each year would be advisable.
Overall, as with much Health and Safety legislation the rules can be open to interpretation and often a shared sense approach is the best policy. It can be tempting to eliminate all possible risk by having portable electrical equipment tested professionally on a regular basis but often this would be not needed and an unnecessary expense.
Good working practices, ensuring that staff are made aware of the hazards and proper care and attention are often the best procedures for ensuring a safe working ecosystem. Where electricity is concerned it always best to err upon the safe side so if you are not thoroughly confident then by all method seek specialized guidance.