Workplace electrical appliances should be safe
The figures speak for themselves: nearly a quarter of all reported electrical accidents are caused by portable and transportable electrical equipment, and around 1000 workplace accidents involving electricals take place each year.
In 2003-2004, electrical shocks accounted for 14 deaths and 148 non-fatal injuries among the UK workforce. Faulty equipment and leads are to blame for more than 6000 fires a year.
Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why legal duties covering the integrity of new electrical or electronic equipment fall to manufacturers and suppliers. But responsibility for the safe operation of equipment in the workplace rests squarely on the shoulders of employers.
The use and maintenance of all electrical equipment is covered by the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAWR). The EAWR demand that all electrical appliances that plug into an electrical system – whether they are fixed or portable and transportable – must be maintained, as far as reasonably practical, to prevent danger.
Many organisations use field service organisations and contractors’ specialist portable appliance testing operations. Others rely on in-house testing protocols supervised by maintenance managers, safety engineers and site electricians, or facilities management personnel.
Whichever route you take, electrical safety policies must be capable of revealing potential problems with appliances before they occur, and this is where preventative maintenance programmes come into their own.
Most equipment defects can be found by visual inspection; according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), you can find 95% of faults or damage simply by looking. For example, a detailed examination by a competent person is likely to reveal hazards caused by cable or plug damage, faulty wiring or other obvious signs that the condition of the equipment could lead to faults or endanger users.
But for maximum effectiveness, visual inspections should be part of a larger programme of periodic inspection and testing aimed at identifying any “invisible” electrical faults such as lack of earth continuity, compromised insulation, incorrect polarity, or unacceptable earth leakage before they become serious hazards.
These combined inspection and testing programmes should be tailored to the risk. This means maintenance procedures in some commercial environments may be needed less frequently than in high-risk environments, such as industrial premises or construction sites. Smaller offices or workplaces with only a few common electrical appliances are relatively low-risk environments. In such locations, regular, formal user checks plus visual inspection, combined with some restricted periodic testing is probably the best approach.
Larger organisations, with numerous departments and a wider variety of equipment, call for a different approach because they must show they have tested equipment at the right time and in the right sequence. These organisations must be able to provide proof of maintenance and testing, such as records of test levels and results.
The frequency of equipment inspection and testing will depend on whether electrical items are rated Class I or Class II, and where they are used. An office kettle (which is Class l) might need a visual inspection every six to 12 months, for example, but combined inspection and testing only every one to two years.
For advice on Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article courtesy of Jim Wallace, who is research and technology manager at Seaward Electronic,