Effective testing maintains safe environment
Jim Wallace of Seaward says that effective testing protocols are essential to maintaining the safety of electrical and electronic equipment used in the workplace.
Factors such as the increasingly safety conscious world, the threat of litigation, new legal penalties and the demands of insurance companies have given added emphasis to the need to ensure that electrical appliances and electronic equipment used in the workplace are safe.
The message is clear - test protocols and inspection procedures designed to ensure a safe working environment must be maintained at all times.
Around 1,000 electrical accidents at work are reported to the HSE each year and about 25 people die of their injuries.
In addition, fires started by poor electrical installations and faulty appliances also create significant disruption to business operations and cause many more deaths and injuries.
Evidence shows that a large number of the problems caused by faulty electrical equipment could have been avoided if proper electrical checking procedures had been applied.
While specialised business equipment such as computers, printers, kettles and fans do not present the same degree of risk as electric power tools and appliances, damaged plugs and frayed leads on any item of electrical equipment could still give electric shocks to users and cause office fires.
The HSE recognises this fact and advises that a simple visual inspection is likely to be sufficient for equipment used in a clean dry environment.
In addition, equipment that is more likely to become damaged or is operated in a harsh environment is likely to require more demanding electrical tests.
It is good practice to assess how often equipment being used for work purposes should be tested, write down your findings, make sure the testing is carried out, and write down the results of the tests.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 requires that all electrical equipment and systems should be maintained so as to prevent danger to users.
The implication has been firmly established that this can only be achieved by regular inspection and testing of appliances and electrical equipment.
This is supported by the HSE Guidance Notes on Portable Appliance Testing and the updated IEE Code of Practice for In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment, which both provide details of recommended test intervals for different types of equipment and working environments and the associated risk factors.
To enable PAT contractors and service firms to carry out these electrical safety tests, a range of portable appliance testers are available that make the in-service safety testing process safe, fast and easy to carry out.
Test instruments are available that range from the relatively simple to operate pass/fail checkers that provide an immediate 'go/no go' display.
These basic safety checkers do not possess an internal memory for results storage and are designed for use by those who may be relatively unskilled in electrical work.
For more comprehensive test requirements, sophisticated microprocessor controlled testers are available that combine user-friendly operation with a whole range of other features.
These include options for manual or automatic testing and the ability to record results in the tester for transfer to data management programs.
Lightweight hand-held PAT testers are now available that incorporate all Class I and Class II required electrical safety tests in a compact enclosure.
In many, long-life battery power eliminates the reliance on mains outlets for testing, making the instrument totally portable and suitable for universal testing applications.
In the most advanced testers, Bluetooth technology allows the wireless connection of bar code scanners, label printers and other accessories - allowing totally cable-free testing, without the cumbersome and constant plugging and unplugging of leads and cords.
Advanced testers can also be linked directly to safety-labelling printers for the fast and automatic production of appliance test labels on site.
The use of computerised portable appliance testers also enables data to be transferred directly from the instrument to a PC-stored database.
This allows the contractor to provide automatic updates of test records and generate test reports in a range of formats.
Importantly, some programs can also produce advance testing schedules to remind clients of their responsibilities - helping to maintain a continuous flow of work for the contractor.
With such a variety of PATs to choose from, very rarely is the choice simply down to price; user competency, technical specifications, accessories and software compatibility can also be key factors behind any purchasing decision.
As a result, integrated PAT solutions approaches have been developed that streamline the selection of test systems by providing different test instruments alongside various accessory and software options, service and calibration support, in keeping with exactly the sort of portable appliance testing being undertaken.
For example, for large PAT companies and operations, decisions may be linked to integrating Bluetooth enabled testers with test management databases by the field service team.
For more basic needs it is about making testing as easy as possible and eliminating errors.
In this way, different PAT test elements can be brought into distinct PAT system packages that not only make purchasing decisions easier, but ensure that the safety testing of all electrical items is undertaken as cost effectively as possible.
For those responsible for workplace safety, a well-planned programme of preventative maintenance, with regular PAT testing and safety checks at its core, is the optimum way to avoid needless and tragic electrical accidents.
Electrical contractors and service firms therefore have the opportunity to build on this need - supported by instrument manufacturers who have successfully developed the technology to make testing faster, simpler and more efficient.
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