Electrical safety Part 1: PAT testing in churches

Electrical safety Part 1: PAT testing in churches

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A church has a legal* responsibility for ensuring that all electrical systems and appliances are safe but many churches are unsure how to do this, and whether a Portable Appliance Test (PAT) is needed. This article introduces the key issues relating to portable electrical equipment however the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance for low-risk environments such as churches. Advice from a qualified electrician should be sought if there is any doubt.

PAT testing is the most effective way to make sure that safety standards are met but are only part of a wider approach which should include the following:

  • User checks: Make sure that people know not to use any appliances they are concerned about and report cracked plugs, loose wires, burn marks, splits or cuts in electrical wire etc. to the person responsible.
  • Formal visual inspection: Equipment should be periodically inspected. This could include removing plug cover to check wires are secure and in good condition as well as checking the appliance is suitable for the job and being used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. This inspection does not need to be carried out by an electrician but the person should be competent and know what to look for.
  • PAT tests: These check the earth connection and should be carried out at intervals depending on the type of equipment, the usage, and the environment it is used in.The table below shows the HSE’s suggested checking intervals however it is up to a church’s own risk assessment to determine the frequency.

What should be checked and/or tested in churches?

  • Anything owned by the church (whether purchased or donated) and used by employees, members, or visitors. This includes occasionally used items that may be in store cupboards such as Christmas lights.
  • Equipment owned by employees and used in church.

Some health and safety legislation also applies to volunteers and visitors and so it can be argued that the church is responsible for the safety of equipment owned by members of the church and brought along for use in church. This could include personal equipment used by the worship team and power tools brought in on a work day. As always, a common-sense approach should be taken; something brought in for a one-off use may just have a user check whereas equipment left in church and used by several people may benefit from testing. The cost (typically £2/item) is very small and is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the lender.

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The following do not need a PAT test:

  • Items that are new – these are assumed to be safe at the time of purchase but should then be included in the next cycle of inspections or tests. They should still be regularly checked for damage.
  • Items that are double insulated. Some appliances (see arrow in photo) have additional protection built in and do not have an earth connection, so do not need to be tested. They should still be regularly checked for damage, including to plugs and leads.

HSE suggested initial intervals for checking portable electrical equipment:

Nick Jones

* Electricity at Work Regulations 1989  

This guidance only seeks to provide generalised advice on the subject covered to assist churches in their operation. It is not a substitute for seeking specific advice on particular issue.

This article was originally published in e-news February 2018