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Don't get shocked - get checked

10 May 2013

The regulations regarding employers’ responsibility towards electricity in the workplace are notoriously vague. But when the risks of not complying could be fatal it is important that firms are not made liable for any misdemeanours.

Paul Collins, head of operations at the NICEIC, explains the importance of getting checked and of using a registered or competent person to carry out any inspections.
The Electricity at Work regulations state that all electrical systems and equipment in the working environment should be in a safe condition and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) requires that to comply with the regulations an inspection and testing schedule must be implemented in all workplaces. Although there are no direct legal requirements on an employer to ensure systems are checked and maintained on a regular basis, it is recommended that an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) is carried out at three, five or ten year intervals, depending on the type of building – domestic, commercial or industrial – you operate in. This is an essential part of ensuring compliance with the electrical requirement of the Electricity at Work regulations 1989, The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and BS7671.

An EICR is like an MOT for your building and will highlight any potential or major faults that need to be looked at. EICRs should be carried out by competent electrical contractors, such as those registered with a regulatory body like NICEIC or ELECSA. Every electrical installation deteriorates with use and age so it is important that it is periodically inspected and tested by a competent person. The results of the test are detailed in the EICR. 

The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition. However, the regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently. The testing of electrical equipment, in the home or workplace, is more commonly known as PAT (portable appliance testing) and usually involves a registered contractor running a series of quick tests on an appliance to ensure it is safe to use. (Portable electrical equipment may be classed as any equipment that has a lead and a plug, and can be easily moved around the workplace – including items such as kettles, fans, photocopiers, personal computers and even multi-socket extension leads).

The issue caused a major stir last year when annual PAT tests were deemed an unnecessary burden by the HSE. Speaking at the time, HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: "Businesses are responsible for protecting their employees, but they shouldn’t be wasting their money on unnecessary checks that have no real benefit.” 
This was in response to some PAT testing firms who were putting out misleading and unnecessary comments that suggested PAT testing should be carried out on an annual basis. This is not the case and the revised guidelines from the HSE suggest that "Not every electrical item needs a portable appliance test (PAT). In some cases, a simple user check and visual inspection is enough e.g. checking for loose cables or signs of fire damage and, if possible, checking inside the plug for internal damage, bare wires and the correct fuse. Other equipment, e.g. a floor cleaner or kettle, may need a portable appliance test, but not necessarily every year”.

Using a competent electrician
Whilst the regulations surrounding electricity may be unclear – the danger is not. Each year about 30 people die from electric shock or electric burns at work and about the same number die from electrical accidents in the home. Most of these electrical accidents are preventable, particularly those in offices or other lower risk environments.
NICEIC is the UK’s leading voluntary regulatory body for the electrical contracting industry. It has been assessing the electrical competence of electricians for over fifty years and currently maintains a roll of over 26,000 registered contractors. 

Whether it is for an EICR, PAT testing or just general guidance on electrical issues NICEIC suggest employers carry out regular checks of their property and equipment to ensure safety standards are maintained. Whilst the regularity of these tests is down to the employer the importance of using a person or firm from a registered body should not be underestimated.

Electricians registered with NICEIC are assessed on a regular basis to ensure high standards and their work is checked against the IEE Wiring Regulations BS 7671 as well as other standards. To have peace of mind for your business check out the last time an electrical report was carried out on your premises and get a registered electrician in if you have any doubts.