Electrical inspections and safety

09 November 2018

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

Electric board

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.

Warning signs

Electrical problems need diagnosis from a professional, and many problems may remain hidden unless inspected and tested. A few common warning signs may include:
 
  • Frequent circuit breaker tripping or fuse blowing 
  • Flickering lights
  • Receiving a mild electric shock or a tingle from appliances or the distribution system
  • Scorch marks or overheated parts; particularly common on high current use appliances like kettles, heaters, toasters, etc.
  • Unusual buzzing or hissing sounds, or smells from apparatus or the electrical distribution system
  • Malfunctioning light or power switches where the switch throw does not have a clear ‘click’.

1Reference: The London Fire Brigade article 
2The frequency of inspection table is adopted from Guidance Note 3 of BS7671