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Electrical inspections and safety

According to the London Fire Brigade1, in the last nine-year period there has been a 900% increase in fires of an electrical origin.

It is therefore vital that electrical systems are well maintained and inspected regularly to reduce the risks.

What are my responsibilities?

Where employees may be present the law requires a system of inspection, testing and maintenance of electrical systems, including wiring, switchgear, any fixed machinery and portable electrical appliances should be in place to prevent danger.

  • Commercial property owners are duty bound by the requirements of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAW) made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to undertake periodic inspections of electrical systems.
  • BS7671: Requirements for electrical installations is endorsed by the Health & Safety Executive as the best way to comply with EAW and includes periodic inspection as part of the requirements.

There are two key parties referred to in the EAW and BS7671: 

  • Duty Holder: the person on whom statutory or other duties are imposed. 
  • Competent Person: someone who possesses sufficient technical knowledge and experience for the nature of the electrical work undertaken. 

Failure to complete periodic fixed electrical inspection and testing may render insurance policies for buildings, contents, property, public liability as well as other insurance policies invalid, so it is important that the Duty Holder ensures that they have an appropriate inspection and testing programme in place.
  • Frequency of testing

     
    The recommended maximum period between inspection and testing is defined in BS7671 with examples given in the table2 below. However the age, use and condition of a system should be taken into consideration and may mean testing is required more often.

    Type of premises Maximum period between inspections and testing
    Churches, commercial, offices, shops, restaurants, hotels, residential, educational and village halls
    5 years
    Industrial, public entertainment, leisure, theatre and agriculture 3 years
    Swimming pools 1 year

  • Keeping records

     
    Records of inspection and maintenance should be kept throughout the life of an electrical system as this will enable the condition of the installation to be monitored.

    Condition reports on electrical installation, and records of maintenance and repairs, all help the Duty Holder to demonstrate that reasonable steps are being taken to meet their legal obligations.
  • Fixed electrical installation inspections

     
    An independent inspection and test of the installation by a Competent Person will help identify hidden problems and deteriorations in a system before they cause serious problems. Employing an inspection company with UKAS accreditations to ISO17020 is highly recommended as they are independent of installation and maintenance services and can therefore provide an impartial report. Alternatively you can use a fully qualified electrical contractor.

    Insurers may have specific requirements should an inspection be required as a condition of cover. Ecclesiastical request you use a UKAS accredited inspection company, such as HSB Engineering, or electrical contractors with full scope registration or membership, to work on commercial installations with either:

    • National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC)
    • The Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) or
    • The National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers (NAPIT)

    Furthermore where the inspection concerns a commercial premises Ecclesiastical do not permit the use of electricians or contractors who are only registered to undertake work on domestic installations under part P of the Building Regulations.

Portable electrical appliance inspections (PAT Testing)

Portable electrical appliances (defined as any electrical appliance capable of being carried and connected to a mains supply) should be inspected and tested by a competent person on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be a qualified electrician, however they should have suitable electrical knowledge and experience, understand the equipment to be tested and able to recognise if it presents a hazard.

There is no statutory frequency for inspection and testing of portable appliances. Instead the frequency should reflect usage, together with the environment the appliance is generally used in. In other words the greater the frequency and the harsher the environment the shorter the period between testing.

It is good practice to perform a simple visual check before use of equipment to check for damaged plugs, frayed cables and loose connections.

By Philip Patterson, Head of Engineering Strategy, HSB Engineering Insurance Ltd.
For further advice on electrical safety please refer to the HSE publication:
HSR25 “Memorandum of guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989”.

1Reference: The London Fire Brigade article
Londoners warned of potential fire hazard lurking under the stairs
2The frequency of inspection table is adopted from Guidance Note 3 of BS7671
Caution HSB
Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.