The Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) has warned that poor interpretation of HSE guidance on Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) could result in a drop in electrical safety standards in the workplace.

Misinterpretation of the new guidelines could lead some businesses to underestimate the risk of electrical fault, shock and fire, or lose sight of the need for ongoing electrical inspection and maintenance.

The HSE’s recent guidance states that in many everyday situations, a competent, visual inspection of plugs and leads may be enough to ensure electrical safety. However, Paul Reeve, head of Business Policy at the ECA and Chartered Fellow of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, has expressed concern. He said, “The HSE is keen to show how PAT can be done cost effectively and we welcome their practical approach. However, businesses still need to be aware of the risk of faulty electrical equipment, and how to manage that risk properly.”

The ECA states that to ensure the safety of portable electrical appliances, businesses need a good understanding of the risk from portable electrical equipment, taking into account what the equipment does and, importantly, how it is used; an ongoing, risk-based portable appliance inspection, visual or otherwise, carried out by competent people; and knowledge of what to do when inspection finds problems with leads or equipment.

Reeve concluded, “Electrical inspection remains vitally important to personal safety and fire prevention. Competent electrical contractors can help businesses to get the balance right for a practical, cost effective approach to PAT which will help to ensure electrical safety at work.”