What the Grenfell disaster tells us about PAT testing

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It’s now two months since the Grenfell Tower fire that killed hundreds and left countless others without a home.

The disaster tore apart a community and swung the media spotlight onto the choice of cladding that allegedly caused the fire to spread so rapidly. Safety protocols were also highly criticised, following the discovery that Grenfell’s residents were told to stay inside their flats until rescued.

On 23rd June, the police confirmed that the cause of the fire was a fridge-freezer. And, while we can pontificate on exactly how it started the catastrophic blaze, the Grenfell tragedy is a stark reminder of how even the smallest of electrical faults can have dire consequences.

The importance of PAT testing

If you run a business, the thought of it potentially causing harm to employees and members of the public due to lack of electrical testing is rather unpalatable.

This is why portable appliance testing (commonly known as ‘PAT testing’) is so important.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that every electrical appliance within rentable residential and commercial premises are PAT tested annually.

When was the last time you conducted a PAT test?

What needs to be PAT tested?

Broadly speaking, employers should ensure that no danger can result from the use of equipment under the following circumstances:

  • appliances that are used by employees;
  • appliances that might be used by the public within places such as schools, hotels, shops and hospitals;
  • establishments from which appliance may be supplied or hired; and
  • in situations where appliances are repaired or serviced.

If your business or organisation falls into one or more of the brackets above, it’ll need to undertake PAT testing.

Each device you own, operate or loan will gain a sticker to confirm it has been tested, and the resulting certificate for the site itself will list all devices and detail whether they’ve passed or failed. You’ll also be given individual re-test dates for the equipment.

Can I PAT test the equipment myself?

Unless you’re a qualified electrical tester who has experience using PAT testers, PAT adaptors and PAT test kits – no!

PAT testing is a complex task which involves multiple examinations and knowledge of all the variables that need to be taken into account. This is why investing in the services of a qualified tester is absolutely the way to go.

Interim visual checks you can undertake

While it isn’t advisable to conduct your own official PAT testing, there are some visual checks anyone can undertake to identify equipment that may be dangerous.

It’s advisable to occasionally take some time out to check the electrical health of your portable appliances. To find the more obvious faults, look for the following:

  • mechanical damage or signs of wear on the body of the appliance;
  • signs of overheating (too hot to touch or heat damage to the surface on which the device is placed are common examples);
  • obvious damage to cables (fraying, splits or knots);
  • intermittent supply of power;
  • unusual noises (buzzing, humming or clicking).

If you spot appliances exhibiting any of the above, you can make the job of a PAT tester far easier by pointing them out before the testing begins.

Wrapping up

It’s hard to get those images of the Grenfell Tower fire out of your mind, but the thought that it all started from something as simple and seemingly innocuous as an electrical appliance fire is sobering.

If you haven’t PAT tested your equipment yet or know your annual check-up is overdue, it’s time to take action.

Recommended reading: The HSE’s portable appliance testing FAQ

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