It is suggested that unnecessary electrical safety tests cost office-based businesses an estimated £30 million a year. It is certainly apparent to us that far too many low risk workplaces are facing an overkill of testing that ends up costing much more than it should.
The problem seems to be that a myth has built up over the years; this myth is that every portable electrical appliance in the workplace needs to be tested once a year; and this becomes expensive.
We have worked with and advised a significant number of businesses to move away from this costly route but when they talk to the PAT testing companies they are advised that yearly testing is the easiest way to go. Easiest maybe, but when you add the costs up it’s a mad decision to make. In fact, we have gone back to two businesses in 2012 who had wished they had heeded our previous advice because the realisation hits home that a year goes by very quickly and they are soon paying the same bill again.
The problem seems to come from misleading advice and advertising, often by companies who offer the testing. This contributes to low-risk businesses such as offices, shops and hotels, paying unnecessarily for over-the-top maintenance regimes.
“So what is required?” you might ask. The law simply requires an employer to ensure that electrical equipment is maintained in order to prevent danger – it does not state that every item has to be tested or how often testing needs to be carried out.
It is however true that testing appliances to ensure that they are safe to use can contribute to an effective maintenance regime, but in a low-risk environment the risk of significant damage occurring is generally unlikely. Instead, simple systems of checking the appliances for obvious signs of damage (for example, frayed cables) can save a significant amount of money.
Clearly, not all faults are always visible and more importantly, not all staff will carry out the visual checks so some testing will be necessary; the key is to make the testing proportionate to the risk.
Both the HSE and the Association of British Insurers has said that they do not believe businesses should be undertaking unnecessary portable electrical appliance tests which are not proportionate to the risk.
The HSE has issued new guidance that is simple and clear to follow.