Like every event and get together that the MU puts on for members, there is more to the day than what is in the title. Every time I am asked to provide a service for members, whether in Wales, Cornwall, Wiltshire or anywhere else, it is an enjoyable day of meeting lovely people who share so much in experience, passion and enjoyment of music, as well as all the ups and downs that our industry faces every day.
PAT testing! Doesn’t sound that interesting, and as a subject with many grey areas it doesn’t have any of us running out to spend our precious down time doing it. However – the more we do these days, the more we find that we all learn and take away, surprisingly, little nuggets of knowledge we didn’t even know we wanted.
We have tested so many different items for you all from small items like transformers to full PA equipment. Some of it more challenging than others. But what I have found so rewarding is being able to make some of the reasons and necessities for PAT testing clearer for many.
We all use a mixed ensemble of electrical items when we go to someone else’s venue, yet do not often understand the reasons for requirements put on us by venues, stage managers, promoters and so on.
When you look up PAT testing online there is so much information that is written that you will, if you look hard enough, find the answer you may be looking for. Unfortunately it can be difficult to know what information to trust and there is often key information missing from the articles you find.
I hope that the following information will help a little with these grey areas so that there is a little less confusion regarding the needs and requirements of PAT testing.
PAT testing and the law
The most common statement I get (as a stage manager and manager of a community venue) is that “PAT testing is not a legal requirement” and this statement is 100% true.
However, to understand in detail why then you are asked to prove PAT testing is up to date you need to read the legal legislation that can be found in literature like the Code of Practice for In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment (or on many HSE and government sites).
But to save you the long and not so interesting read, 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.
As we are bringing items they have no knowledge of into their venues they have very limited ways of ensuring our equipment 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 a legal requirement. So we PAT test our gear.
Why venues ask for paperwork as more proof than a PASS sticker
“Why do venues ask for paperwork and not accept the fact that an item has a PASS sticker on it?”
This is a very common and understandable question. But the answer has more than one thread.
- Anyone can buy stickers online. Therefore they mean nothing without more information to prove testing.
- Correct paperwork allows the manager/venue to get an indication if the tester was in fact competent and what equipment was used to perform the tests. Also that the dates and readings on the paperwork correspond with the stickers on the equipment.
- The sticker may have fallen off.
- Was the testing equipment a home/light commercial tester or a more industry acceptable tester? Many venues do not like or accept a pass/fail tester as there are no readings given on the paperwork. An experienced person carrying out the tests will have the ability to read and interpret the readings that may have been affected by other factors such as cable length or other factors. So a pass/fail tester may not be acceptable to some managers.
- Good, recorded paperwork will show clearly the calibration date of the equipment used to perform tests.
- If there are any concerns the manager/venue can call the person named as the tester to iron out any possible issues.
- The manager/duty holder/venue has a legal responsibility to be satisfied that your paperwork is acceptable, legal and written by a competent person.
- I could probably list many more reasons but I’m sure this gives you a clear picture of why.
Having said all the above. The biggest reason I PAT test my own gear before heading out and about is so I know that myself, my band mates and the public are as safe as I can know when plugging into the mains power.
It’s always been a no brainer for me and the reason why, when I was stage managing much more than I am now, I invested time and money into this side of my business. None of us need to know the legislation to understand protecting life and property. PAT testing also protects our financial investments too, which I will explain later.
What a PAT tester is looking for
When someone PAT tests your equipment, they are:
- Visually inspecting the cables and condition of your equipment.
- The PAT testing machine runs 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.
- The more advanced testing equipment, which should really be a minimum you are looking for, carries 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 you have a portable item that is rated 700 watts or under it would usually be fed by a plug that is fitted with a 3-amp fuse which is designed to blow if more than 700 watts is drawn. Therefore 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. Only a couple of pennies for a new fuse against the cost of replacing or fixing the item being powered. A 13-amp fuse fails at over 3000 watts therefore if you’re using a 13-amp fuse in your 700 watt item it will not be protected as per manufacturer’s instructions. It’s easy to see why equipment can be damaged with the wrong fuse fitted. If your equipment, as most do, has an IEC/kettle lead then you need to ensure the correctly fused lead stays with that item. I can say confidently that this is an area we all should pay more attention to. I have replaced at least half of the fuses on leads I have checked recently.
How often should my gear be tested?
This is one of those “How long is a piece of string?” questions. 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. It’s therefore impossible to provide a simple answer to the question. But as a general rule I would say that for musicians’ equipment in the majority of cases it would be reasonable to test 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 again their power supply would.
What do I recommend to members to help keep themselves/others safe and their equipment in good order?
- As always 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.
- When I can, I like to plug an RCD plug (Residual Current Device) into the venue’s 230V outlet socket and my gear into that socket before I 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 manufacturer’s instructions.
This is just a small insight to PAT testing and I’m sure it doesn’t answer all your questions, but I hope it helps to provide further insight. Book yourself onto one of the MU PAT testing sessions and hopefully we can find time to answer any outstanding questions as well as reassure you that your gear is safe to head out with.
Upcoming MU PAT Testing sessions
12 July in Saltash, book your place now.
Cardiff – session being planned for Autumn 2023
Further related resources