If you don’t know what PAT means, or have never come across the acronym, then you might be ignorant of something which has quietly saved your life. PAT stands for ‘Portable Appliance Testing’ and it pertains to every electrical appliance that is powered through a mains plug. Typically such appliances are your table-lamp, computer and electric kettle etc, but not an electric oven which is wired directly to a junction box. If you live in furnished accommodation then your landlord has for safety reasons a legal obligation to PAT test all your portable electrical appliances at appropriate intervals, in compliance with the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations Act of 1994. Likewise, if you are an employee then your boss has a similar obligation to PAT test all qualifying equipment used in your workplace, in compliance with PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998). Failure to comply with the requirement can invalidate an insurance claim and even lead to prosecution by the HSE (Health & Safety Executive). Each appliance should be tested by a ‘competent person’ using specialised equipment and afterwards marked with a durable sticker stating whether or not the test was passed.
At first glance a safety regime of this rigour might seem excessive given that the typical modern appliance draws power via a fused plug and probably from a wiring system that incorporates earth leakage protection, but many kinds of electrical fault remain dangerously invisible to these safety devices. The electrical resistance of a poor connection can produce sufficient heat to start a fire while actually reducing the current drawn by the appliance, and a loose earth wire can lead to someone’s electrocution. It is these situations that PAT testing is intended to prevent, and PAT test labels are mandatory to provide the evidence. In a typical year in the UK over 10% of all fires in the home and workplace are caused by faulty electrical apparatus.
These days electrical appliances are everywhere and hopefully, if your boss or landlord is taking the law seriously, you are surrounded by little green stickers stating when safety checks were last made and when the next are due. If you come across a sticker on an appliance displaying an expired ‘due’ date then you should draw this to someone’s attention, and if you come across a red ‘fail’ sticker you should place the condemned appliance beyond use immediately. Sound a klaxon if you have one, for this is the raison d’etre of the PAT testing label.
On the other hand, if you are the ‘competent person’ who checks appliances then as part of your toolkit you need a supply of PAT testing labels. Such labels vary in size and shape and may be purchased in generic form with blank areas to be filled in by hand, possibly including a pre-printed zone containing your contact details, or you may customise them yourself. The one option that is not generally practical is to print your own PAT labels from scratch. If you wish to avoid the long term £ouch factor of hiring a third party to customise your labels you can obviously buy a printer and do the job yourself, the advantage of this being that your labels may readily be designed to contain any record-keeping information you like, such as a serial number or job number, and appliance ID. The important thing is that your label shows when the last test was conducted, the result of this test, and the date of the next test due.
To accommodate these requirements, PAT labels come in many guises. There is the plain sticker for attaching directly to the side of the appliance that has been tested, such as the microwave oven label that is used to record radiation leakage and the efficacy of the interlock switch (disables oven when door is opened), and the mini PAT test label for attaching to plug tops and other small areas. Then, for cables, there is the self-tie tag and the self-adhesive wrap or flag. There is even a simple PAT label to record the result of a humble fuse test. Labels need not necessarily be green for ‘passed’ or red for ‘failed’ but the information they display must be clear and unambiguous.
So keep an eye on those labels and keep safe.
Landlords, Agents and Businesses who need to comply with The Health & Safety Act (1974).