The recent changes in IET Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment provides a timely reminder for all those with a responsibility for workplace safety under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989.
Designed to ensure that organisations, administrators and those carrying out the testing fully understand the requirements. There is considerable evidence that faulty electrical appliances continue to pose a serious threat to people and property.
To meet the requirements, new guidance was issued by the HSE in mid-2012 on maintaining portable appliances in low-risk environments.
The HSE guidance suggests that certain types of equipment- particularly Class II items (i.e. double-insulated equipment) – may not need to be tested. However, the same guidance suggests that Class I equipment (earthed items), together with mains cables, extension leads and battery charging equipment, should be subject to periodic inspection and test, as should cables and extension leads.
The new guide has been expanded in scope to include more electrical-equipment categories and workplaces, together with more detailed explanatory notes and definitions of inspection and testing matters. In main though, to highlight that the importance of taking a structured approach to risk assessment for the determination of equipment inspection and testing intervals.
A Firm Emphasis on Risk Assessment.
The new addition is even more clear that only when risk of using electrical equipment has been assessed and understood can it be managed through a programme of inspection and testing. It 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 points out you may enlist the services of a competent person to assist in this process.
The IET Code recognises that there are many different methods of risk assessment and, provided that they are carried out within their individual scope of use, any can be used. The key is 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, the risk assessment should be updates to reflect this.
By their nature, risk assessments are subjective and can often be difficult to show, or explain the reasoning behind judgement taken at an earlier date. With electrical safety, such reviews need to consider not only the technical aspects of the particular item of equipment but also the practicalities of the location and the human factors associated with attitudes to safety and the use of equipment.
The following factors should be taken into consideration when making an informed decision regarding the frequency of any inspections and tests requires:
- Environment – equipment installed in a benign environment, such as an office, will suffer less damage than equipment in an arduous environment, such as a construction site.
- Users -if the users of the equipment report damage as and when it becomes evident, hazards will be avoided.
- Equipment type – an appliance that is handheld is more likely to be damaged that a fixed appliance. If such an appliance is also Class I the risk of danger is increased, as safety depends on the continuity of the protective conductor from the plug to the appliance.
- Equipment Construction – the safety of a Class I appliance depends on the connection with the earth of the fixed electrical installation. If the flexible cable is damaged the connection with the earth can be lost. The safety of Class II equipment is not dependent upon the integrity of the electrical installations; if equipment is known to be Class II and is used in a low-risk environment, such as an office, recorded testing (but not inspection) may be omitted;
- Frequency of Use – the frequency of use of an appliance is important, particularly where portable, movable and handheld appliances are concerned, as this may have implications on service life and exposure to possible damage;
- Type of installation method – installation methods should be taken into account, especially when assessing fixed equipment, as the isolator position and cable management can be important factors;
- Previous records – where previous records of inspection, testing and maintenance are available, these should be used to evaluate the frequency of subsequent inspections and tests, as they will provide a history of the environment, the users and how these affect the condition of the appliances concerned.
The new IET Code of Practice should help all those involved in maintaining electrical safety in the workplace to understand their obligations and make more informed decisions on the scope of electrical inspection and testing requires.
The application of a risk-based approach, together with the use of enhanced compliance records and documentation systems, should also enable duty-holders to exercise greater control and security over portable-appliance maintenance procedures.