It is widely believed that annual Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is now mandatory in many situations (though in fact, this isn’t true – see http://www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/faq-portable-appliance-testing.htm ). However, if it is done properly by a competent electrician, how could it actually be dangerous?
The PAT tester tests the insulation of the appliance at 500V, and this can give a very unpleasant shock, but it is very short-lived and unlikely to kill you. However, this isn't the real problem with PAT testing. The danger arises from the attitude it engenders in the appliance user. An unfortunate side-effect of my paying someone to undertake safety checks is that I will take less responsibility for my own safety and the safety of those close to me.
Consider a simple example where PAT testing doesn’t help. While cooking, I accidentally spill some cooking oil into the toaster. I then need to make a judgement based on how much I have spilled and where exactly I spilled it, as to whether I have made the toaster unsafe. Is it going to electrocute me? – probably not. Is it going to catch fire at some time in the future? - possibly. Having a PAT test done a year ago (or even two days ago) is not going to help me with that judgement - only practical experience of risks and their consequences is going to guide me.
Actually, it's even worse than that. Feeling nervous about it, I might ask an electrician to do a PAT test AFTER spilling the oil in the toaster, and it would almost certainly pass - but that wouldn't make it safe!
An increasingly common approach is to say that I don’t trust my own judgement any more, and so when even the slightest damage happens to my appliance, I will throw it away and buy a new one. This is expensive, unnecessary, and very wasteful of our natural resources.
I need to practise common sense in everything I do, and recognise that it is not possible to live in an environment in which one has paid others to ensure that everything is safe - I cannot delegate responsibility for my own safety entirely to someone else. In the jargon of the legislation, I need to undertake a risk assessment whenever I use an appliance or tool. This doesn’t mean I have to fill in a form and get someone else to sign it, but it does mean that I should stop for just a moment before I start, consider what might happen if I slipped or something broke, and take whatever steps I can to reduce the impact of that. I should learn to do this automatically, and practise it every day.
I also need to recognise that when something unfortunate does happen, it is more likely to be through my poor judgement than some fault or design weakness of the product. Suing the manufacturer for my stupidity or carelessness is not likely to help anyone except the lawyers, and it won’t mend my injury.
Chris Moller, 02Sep2014