Portable Appliances

Safety guidance relating to the use of portable appliances, inspection & test.

Electrical tools and equipment and their leads face harsh conditions and rough use on site and in Branch workshops.  They are likely to become damaged and become dangerous.  Modern double insulated tools are well protected, but their leads are still vulnerable to damage and should be regularly checked.

Where possible, use cordless tools or tools which operate from a 110volt supply which is centre-tapped to earth so that the maximum voltage to earth should not exceed 55volts.  The use of such equipment will eliminate the risk of death and greatly reduce injury in the event of an electrical accident.

If mains voltage (230volts) has to be used, the risk of injury is high if equipment, tools, leads etc are damaged, or there is a fault.  Trip devices (such as residual current devices (RCDs) rated at 30 mA with no time delay) will be needed to ensure that the current is promptly cut off if contact is made with any live part. 

A maintenance regime must be set up if one does not exist at present.  Maintenance will consist of formal visual inspections and combined inspections and tests (Portable Appliance Tests (PAT)).  A schedule of plant, together with records of inspections and tests, will be required.

Formal visual inspections can be carried out by a competent person, normally a member of staff who has sufficient information and knowledge, following appropriate training on what to look for and what is acceptable, and who has been given the task of carrying out the inspection.

Formal visual inspection should cover the following:

Check for damage (apart from light scuffing) to the cable sheath;

Check for damage to the plug, for example, is the casing cracked or the pins bent?;

Check for inadequate joints, including taped joints in the cable;

Check that the outer sheath of the cable is effectively secured where it enters the plug or the equipment.  Obvious evidence would be if the coloured insulation of the internal cable cores were showing;

Check that the equipment has not been subjected to conditions for which it is not suitable, e.g. wet or excessively contaminated;

Check that there is no damage to the external casing of the equipment or that there are no loose parts or screws;

Check for evidence of overheating (burn marks or discoloration);

Remove the plug cover and check that a fuse is being used (e.g. it is a fuse not a piece of wire, a nail etc), the cable terminations are secure and correct, including an earth where appropriate, and there is no sign of internal damage, overheating or ingress of liquid or foreign matter.

Combined inspection and tests should be carried out by someone with a wider degree of competence than that required for inspection alone. There are two levels of competency.

a) The first is where a person not skilled in electrical work uses a simple pass/fail type of Portable Appliance Tester (PAT), where no interpretation of readings is necessary.  The person would, of course, need to know how to use the PAT correctly.

b) The second is where a person with certain electrical skills uses a more sophisticated instrument which gives readings which require interpretation.  Such a person would need to be competent through technical knowledge or experience.

Either of the above options would be acceptable.  However, it may be more appropriate for this work to be contracted-out.

Combined inspection and tests should cover the following:

Providing that regular formal visual inspections are being carried out at appropriate intervals, the only other tests required are as follows:

Check for loss of earth integrity, e.g. a broken earth wire within a flexible cable;

Check for deterioration of insulation.Frequency of inspection and testing largely depends on the type of equipment and the use it receives.  The table below gives guidance on initial intervals.

Equipment /









And Test

Office equipment, computers, photo-copiers etc

230 volt mains supply ideally through 30 mA RCD


Every 2 Years

230volt kettles, portable and hand- held tools and extension leads

230 volt mains supply  through      30 mA RCD

6 monthly


110volt portable and hand-held tools and extension leads

Secondary winding centre taped to earth (55volt)

6 monthly




Daily test by the user of the test button and 3 monthly formal visual inspection


Note: RCDs require a different range of tests to other portable equipment.  Therefore, equipment designed to carry out tests on RCDs will need to be used.

The above table is for guidance only. The HSE recommend more frequent inspection and testing than that indicated. However, if we can demonstrate through records of inspection and tests, and a lack of premature failure of tools and equipment between tests, that the above regime is sufficient for Star's type of work, then we need do no more.  Obviously, if we are having premature failures, then the inspection and test frequency will have to be increased. By the same token, if there are nil failures between inspections and tests, the frequency may be reduced.

Last modified: Wednesday, 28 November 2012, 4:19 PM