Manufacturers and suppliers of electrical equipment are made to comply with many national and international requirements designed to ensure that the equipment is designed and manufactured to be safe for use. These requirements apply to both work and domestic equipment.

In the workplace, the law requires that this initial integrity of the equipment is maintained and that the health or safety of workers is not put at risk due to them working with damaged or poorly maintained equipment. Regulations specifically require that the equipment in use is properly installed, used and maintained. This helps to control the risks electricity can cause.

Employees often bring to work their own ‘unauthorised’ equipment such as heaters, fans, kettles and coffee percolators. These become part of the work equipment used in the business and the employer becomes responsible and liable for their safety and use.

In this situation the employer has two choices; either ban the use of such equipment requiring it to be taken home, or in accepting its use, take steps to ensure its included it in their maintenance regime. Equipment that fails a user check (or a formal visual inspection) should not be used until it is properly repaired.

The electrical installation should be checked and tested in accordance with the Institute of Electrical Engineers Wiring Regulations which are based on British Standards and International Standards. The regulations require the electrical systems to be checked and tested by a competent electrician at least once every five years. In particularly aggressive environments the period is reduced and the electrician carrying out an examination may recommend a shorter period between examinations based on what they analyse.

For portable electrical equipment, visual inspections are supported by more detailed inspections and tests are also used.
Employees should visually check portable electrically operated equipment on a daily basis or before it is used. They should be instructed and trained to check for:

• obvious damage to the equipment;
• obvious damage to the power supply cable or lead;
• obvious temporary repairs such as taped connections;
• loose connections or loose cabling;
• damage to the plug tops or sockets; and
• scorch or burn marks on the equipment, leads or plug tops.

An employee discovering any of these defects should report it to their supervisor and the equipment will be taken out of use.
Double insulated equipment that carries the double insulated symbol on the maker’s plate doesn’t have an earth lead because no part of the tool can become live and does not need an electrical test.

The frequency of the more detailed inspections and tests will depend on the type of equipment, how often it is used, and the environment in which it is used. Every employer needs to consider their own requirements. Table 1 indicates different timescales that may be suitable. There are two types of test; firstly, a formal visual inspection, similar to a daily user check, should be carried out by a competent person independent from the user. The second is an inspection and test which combines a visual check with an electrical check of apparatus. Details of this test should also be recorded.

Table 1. Suggested inspection frequencies for portable electrical equipment and appliances.

Type of business or equipment
User checks

Daily or before use

Formal visual
inspection
(Frequency depends on usage and operating conditions)
Combined inspection
and test (Frequency depends on usage and operating conditions)
Equipment hire Both Before issue/after return Before issue
Construction
(For indication only.)
110 volt – Weekly

230 volt – Daily/every shift

110 volt – Monthly

230 volt – weekly

110 volt – Before first use on site, then 3-monthly. 230 volt – Before first use on site, then monthly
Office information technology, e.g. desktop computers, photocopiers, fax machines Neither 1 – 2 years None if double-insulated, otherwise up to 5 years
Double-insulated equipment not hand-held, e.g. fans, table lamps Both 2 – 3 years No
Hand-held, double-insulated (Class II) equipment, e.g. some floor cleaners, kitchen equipment and irons Both 6 months – 1 year No
Earthed (Class I) equipment, e.g. electric kettles, some floor cleaners Both 6 months – 1 year 1 – 2 years
Equipment used by the public, e.g. in hotels Daily, by a member of staff 3 months 1 year
Cables and plugs, extension leads Both 1 year 2 years

It is important to keep records of the equipment inspected as well as details of formal visual inspections and combined inspections and tests. You will also need to have records outlining when employees were trained to carry out the checks. Without these records how could you prove to a court what you had done and when? Remember that short toolbox talks can count as formal training provided you have a record of what training was given, to whom and when.

If you want to talk about your health and safety policies concerning electrical equipment, call the advice line on 0844 892 2785 and one of our trained specialists will be on hand to help.