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Electrical Safety and PAT Testing

If you are using any electrical equipment, make sure you are safe both before and after the plug. The legal requirements relating to the use and maintenance of electrical equipment are contained in the Electricity at Work Regulations (EWR).

Last updated: 20 December 2023

The legal requirements relating to the use and maintenance of electrical equipment are contained in the Electricity at Work Regulations (EWR).

These apply to all work activities and place requirements on employers, self-employed and employees (duty holders). Almost all places of entertainment need a licence from the local authority.

There will usually be requirements for fire precautions, and these can also include conditions relating to electrical safety.

The duty holder selects precautions appropriate to the risk. Everybody working with or on electrical equipment (including self-employed) comes within the scope of the EWR.

If you are using any electrical equipment, make sure you are safe both before and after the plug. Everyone working with or on electrical equipment comes within the scope of the EWR.

Portable or fixed equipment

The term Portable Appliance is not defined in the EWR, but may be regarded as covering equipment designed to be carried from place to place and connected to a fixed power supply by a flexible lead and plug,    for example, an amplifier.

The reason for distinguishing between portable and fixed equipment is that the electrical connections to portable equipment — for example, the mains plug, flexible cable and terminals — are likely to be subject to more wear and tear than those on the equipment which forms part of the fixed installation.

Inspection and Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)

Maintenance is a general term that can include visual inspection, testing, repair and replacement. Maintenance will determine whether the equipment is fully serviceable, or if remedial action is necessary. There are no absolute rules regarding the frequency of electrical PAT testing.

The Health & Safety Executive’s guidance notes advise ‘regular testing’ and this is generally interpreted to mean annual testing by a ‘competent person’. However, conditions of use will vary and more frequent electrical safety testing may be necessary.

This will depend on the type of use, the nature of the working environment and how much wear and tear the equipment receives. If there are any signs of damage or poor electrical standards the equipment should not be used until it is made safe.

Any MU member who does not feel that he or she is competent to carry out a Portable Appliance Test (PAT) should enlist the services of a competent electrician.

To prove you have complied with the EWR, keep full and accurate records of test results and equipment details. If a number of pieces of equipment or extension leads are involved, then a register of all equipment should be created to include the following details:

  • Identification number, description of appliance, serial number and period between tests.
  • Any certification of equipment should show the tests undertaken and the results obtained.

For further guidance, visit the HSE website or contact the MU.

Duty of care

To comply with the MU Public Liability Insurance, members should be aware of the following:

  • Members have a duty of care to take all reasonable precautions to prevent damage or injury to third parties and/ or third party property and to comply with all statutory requirements and safety legislation imposed by any authority.
  • Failure to comply with the above policy condition could prejudice a claim.

PAT Testing frequently asked questions

MU Member and PAT tester Mike Nottage answers some of his most frequently asked questions about PAT testing. The MU holds regular free PAT testing events for members - find out more about what’s happening near you and when.

Is PAT testing a legal requirement?

In short the law requires duty holders, managers, employers and anyone with responsibilities for people and property to have done all in their power to ensure that any electrical item used on their premises and/or by their employees is safe for the operator, user, environment, purpose of use and so much more.

Venues have very limited ways of ensuring the equipment you bring into their venues is safe, tested and maintained. Almost all venues, managers, duty holders and insurance companies accept that PAT testing done by a competent person on equipment that is regularly calibrated alongside correctly recorded PAT certificates provides proof of due diligence to satisfy the manager/venue.

So while PAT testing is not a legal requirement. Proving your equipment is safe, maintained and tested is.

Why do venues ask for paperwork and don’t just accept PASS stickers?

Anyone can buy stickers online. Therefore they mean nothing without more information to prove testing.

Correct paperwork allows the manager or the venue to get an indication of whether the tester was competent and what equipment was used to perform the tests. They also get more readings to work with than a simple pass/fail indicator. Also they can then make sure that the dates and readings on the paperwork correspond with the stickers on the equipment. And paperwork means that the manager or venue can call the person named as the tester to iron out any possible issues.

What is a PAT tester is looking for?

When someone PAT tests your equipment, they are:

  • Visually inspecting the cables and condition of your equipment.
  • Using the PAT testing machine to run a series of tests to check the safety and operation ability of your gear. These results can vary and good equipment and a competent tester can record, understand and advise as necessary.
  • Carrying out a functional test too. This means that once the other tests are complete, the final test then runs your electrical item. An item can pass all the other tests and still fail the functional test. This happens often.
  • Checking the fuse ratings on your gear. This has been the area that has created much discussion. As I said above, PAT testing can protect your financial investment. If the cable gets too hot or there is another issue with too much power the fuse will burn out and fail before damaging your equipment.

How often should my gear be tested?

Testers will have a table of items that indicates how often items should be tested depending on where it’s used, how often and by who. However, as a general rule it would be reasonable to test musicians’ equipment annually.

What should be tested?

  • Anything portable that plugs into the mains circuit AC (Alternating Current).
  • Items that run on DC (Direct Current).
  • Usually low current like laptops and many pedal boards/keyboards do not need testing but their power supply will need testing. Often this will be a visual check. Battery powered PA’s also for example would not need to be PAT tested but their power supply would.

What can musicians do to help keep themselves/others safe and their equipment in good order?

  • Prevention is better than a cure.
  • Regularly check the conditions of cables. If you can see wires anywhere then that is a fail. All wires should be shrouded in an insulation cover and secure in their fittings.
  • Make sure you have the correct fuses fitted to the leads you are running your gear off.
  • Check over your gear every time before you plug it in. Just a quick visual check will help.
  • If possible, plug an RCD plug (Residual Current Device) into the venue’s 230V outlet socket and your gear into that socket before you hit the on buttons. You have no way of knowing if their circuits are safe. This way the RCD will be the only thing that should blow if there is an issue. Not your gear.
  • Extension leads are designed to be unwound before you use them. Leaving them coiled while in use can cause them to overheat. Also check the fuse rating. Often extension leads are rated to 10 amps not 13 amps.
  • Ensure equipment is serviced and maintained as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Read more PAT testing advice from Mike Nottage in the feature blog he wrote for us, “Testing times: insuring your equipment is safe and you are protected”.

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