Jim Wallace of Seaward highlights the main changes included in the new IET Code of Practice for maintaining the safety of electrical equipment in the workplace.

The new fourth edition of the IET Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment provides a timely reminder to all those with a responsibility for workplace safety under the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989.

By providing comprehensive guidance on periodic in service inspection and testing of electrical appliances, it is designed to ensure that organisations, administrators and those carrying out the testing fully understand the requirements of the EAWR 1989 and can demonstrate compliance with it.

The CoP in context
The publication of the revised and updated Code of Practice is essentially the third step in a process that started around a year ago with the publication of the Löfstedt report on health and safety and continued with the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) revised guidance on maintaining portable electrical equipment in low risk environments.

In both these cases concern was expressed that the implied legal requirement for maintaining the safety of electrical appliances was being applied too broadly and disproportionately, resulting in situations of costly over compliance, particularly in more benign working environments.

The fourth edition of the IET Code of Practice follows this theme by focussing on the importance of taking a proportionate response to the need to ensure that all workplace electrical systems should be maintained to prevent danger, so far as is reasonably practicable.

To do this the new guide has been expanded in scope to include more electrical equipment categories and workplaces, alongside more detailed explanatory notes and definitions of inspection and testing matters.

However, the main thrust of the new edition is to highlight the importance of taking a structured approach to risk assessment for the determination of equipment inspection and testing intervals. Alongside this renewed emphasis on risk assessment, the new guidance also provides further clarification on the responsibilities of dutyholders and the extent to which the involvement of external contractors or advisors might be used.

Overall, the updated IET Code therefore very much continues the principles established by the Löfstedt report and the latest HSE advice by providing comprehensive guidance for all businesses on how best they can cost effectively comply with their electrical safety obligations.

Assessment of risk 
The clear message from the new IET Code is that electrical equipment maintenance regimes should be based on a more focused and robust approach to assessing the risks posed by electrical appliances. The implication is that only when the risk of using electrical equipment has been assessed and understood can it be managed through a programme of inspection and testing.

In this respect the CoP has always emphasised that the frequency of inspections and testing should be reviewed on a regular basis after an assessment of the risks associated with the use of a particular appliance.

However, new prominence is given to this approach in the latest document which also reiterates that risk-based assessments are the responsibility of the duty holder (which might be the facilities manager, building manager , landlord or other such responsible person), but that a duty holder may enlist the services of a competent person to assist in this process.

Importantly, the new emphasis on risk assessment of the CoP also is completely consistent with the existing legal requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Regulation 3 of the regulation requires all employers and self employed persons to assess the risks to workers and others who may be affected by their undertaking. Employers with five or more employees should also record the significant findings of that assessment.

Guidance on the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 is provided by the HSE’s Approved Code of Practice & Guidance which has special legal status – following its advice is sufficient to comply with the law in respect of matters on which the Code gives advice. In particular the legislation requires an organisation to:

1. Assess the risks to all persons associated with their electrical equipment, identifying the significant risks e.g. portable equipment used out of doors, and make a record of the assessment.

2. As appropriate, appoint a competent person to take responsibility for electrical maintenance including inspection and testing, ensuring that the person given this responsibility is competent in that he or she has sufficient training and experience, knowledge and other qualities to enable him or her properly to support the organisation.

In support of this, the CoP states that there are many different methods of risk assessment and provided they are carried out within their individual scope of use, any can be used. It is also highlighted that risk assessments should be reviewed regularly to ensure that any control measures are effective and that there are no changes in the assessment factors. If there are any significant changes, the risk assessment should be updated to reflect this.

Risk encompasses many factors that can eventually influence a final decision and, for example, should include a full consideration of the environment in which the equipment is being used, the level of user awareness, the equipment construction and type, frequency of use, previous records and type of installation for fixed appliances.

All of the factors used in the risk assessment should culminate in enabling an informed decision to be made on the frequency of any inspections and tests required.

To further reflect the new emphasis on assessment of risk, the IET’s also stresses that its own widely used table on test intervals included in the CoP should be used only as guide to the initial frequencies of inspection and testing. Future and continuing inspection and test intervals should depend on ongoing risk-based assessments, with periods being increased, decreased or kept the same, as appropriate.

The dutyholder, labelling and documentation
Duty holders or managers of premises are required to know their legal responsibilities as laid down in the EAWR 1989. The CoP requires that they should understand and apply the legislation and assess the risks in respect of electrical equipment and appliances within their charge or which they are contracted to inspect, test, and repair or replace.

Duty holders have a legal responsibility to ensure that the electrical equipment in their charge is safe and it is their responsibility to decide whether or not to vary the inspection and test frequencies. However, in doing so, the CoP makes it clear that dutyholders can if necessary take advice from the person doing the inspection and testing.

The CoP also recommends that it is good practice to ensure that all equipment that requires routine inspection and/or testing is clearly identifiable and labelled. The information provided may consist of an identification barcode to enable the equipment to be uniquely identifiable even if several similar items exist within the same premises.

Importantly, in a significant change to existing practices and as further emphasis of the link between the dutyholder, risk assessment and inspection and testing intervals, the new CoP also recommends that the date for re-testing should not be marked on the pass label.

Instead it is advised that the ‘the duty holder should determine the date for the next inspection and/or tests on a risk assessment basis…and record this on their equipment formal visual and combined inspection test record.’

Clearly, without a visual reminder of any next test due dates, there is likely to be increased reliance on the effective use of electrical equipment asset records and inspection and test data.

Although there is no requirement in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 to keep records of equipment and of inspections and tests, the HSE Memorandum of Guidance (HSR25) on these regulations advises that records of maintenance including test results should be kept throughout the working life of equipment. The CoP also recommends that test results should be made available to subsequent test operatives.

Set against the principles of new risk-based maintenance programmes, test record keeping systems are likely to take on even greater importance as a valuable management tool for reviewing the frequency of inspection and testing – and without records duty holders cannot be certain that the inspection and testing have actually been carried out.

Other changes
Although much of the new publication’s electrical testing information remains unchanged, there is some further new and updated advice.

For example, in seeking to broaden the range of business types included in the guidance, the new CoP also includes sections on hired and pre-used equipment.

In the former, the advice is that where equipment is hired for periods of more than one week, then it should be risk assessed to determine any inspection and testing required. In all cases it is the responsibility of the duty holder or person hiring the equipment to monitor any ongoing maintenance requirements.

Similarly, guidance is also given for second hand equipment and for those selling pre-used electrical equipment and appliances. In all cases a risk assessment of resale electrical equipment is required to determine if standard combined inspection and testing is sufficient, or if further production testing, inline with manufacturers’ advice is required.

Further guidance, including the initial frequency of inspection and testing, is also provided on the inspection and testing of fixed equipment. Here the CoP recognises that the inspection and testing of appliances such as hot air hand dryers and water boilers can be more complex than portable and non-fixed equipment but this does not mean that only visual inspections are required. A full combined inspection and test is required at relevant intervals, performed by a person competent to carry out this more complex arrangement of work.

Finally, the previously included section on microwave leakage testing has been removed as it was not considered to be part of an appliance’s electrical safety and sources of leakage, such as damaged door seals or other parts of the enclosure, should be detected as part of a formal visual inspection.

In summary, the new CoP should help all those involved in maintaining electrical safety in the workplace to better understand their obligations and be able to make more informed decisions on the scope of inspection and testing required.