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July 17, 2010

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Research – Check your electrical appliances

Employers and other duty-holders have been reminded of the dangers that can be posed by electrical equipment in the workplace, in the wake of recent research into the failure rates of appliances.

Test instrument manufacturer Seaward reviewed its portable appliance (PAT) test reports compiled during routine in-service electrical safety testing. Its analysis of more than 80,000 PAT tests revealed an average appliance failure rate of 1.4 per cent, which equates to more than 1100 potentially dangerous appliances that would not have been discovered had inspection and testing not been carried out.

The failures were typically recorded in such premises as offices, schools, universities and factories, and involved damaged mains cords, enclosures, or casings, exposed moving parts, and failed earth continuity, or insulation resistance tests.

In industrial environments, such as engineering and manufacturing premises, the failure rates were, at an average of 7.4 per cent, much higher than the likes of offices and administrative services, reflecting the damage and mishandling often associated with power tools and other moveable electrical equipment.

Seaward also emphasised another potentially deadly effect of faulty portable electrical appliances: fire. It cited official UK fire statistics, which show that the Fire Service attended 136,000 accidental fires in non-residential dwellings between 2000 and 2005, the main cause of which was faulty appliances and leads, which were responsible for 30 per cent of the total.

During this same period, the Fire Protection Association revealed that there were 346 reported fire losses that were electrical in origin in premises other than dwellings. The total loss from these was £178m, with an average loss per incident of £50,000.

Rod Taylor, managing director of Seaward, said: “These figures show beyond any doubt the extent to which damaged and faulty electrical appliances pose a danger to users, and are also a potential cause of damaging fires.

“Although at first sight the percentages may appear to be low, the true potential impact can be gauged from the massive number of appliances and electrical items used in everyday workplaces.

“Clearly, the preventative measures to be adopted need to be in proportion to the risk, but in the majority of cases the costs of adopting sensible inspection and testing regimes are lower than those involved with other forms of risk assessment.”

Seaward has produced a free booklet – ‘A Common Sense Approach to Electrical Safety in the Workplace’ – which, the company says, describes the importance of implementing inspection and testing measures that are appropriate to the particular working environment and which are in keeping with the specific risks posed.

Further details are available from or by telephoning 0191 587 8708.

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