Electrical contractors that don’t offer portable appliance testing (PAT testing) may be opening the door for competitors to “steal” their customers, says Simon Wood of Megger. The solution? A new generation of instruments that make it possible for all contractors to add PAT testing easily and inexpensively to their repertoire.
PAT testing on a large scale can undoubtedly be profitable, but it’s a very competitive business. It’s easy to understand, therefore, why many electrical contractors prefer to concentrate on installation work. But this sometimes leads to tricky situations. What happens when an established customer of such a contractor has a few assets that need PAT testing?
The only realistic option for contractors with no PAT test equipment is to turn down the work, which means their customer will get it done elsewhere, quite possibly by a competitor. And, letting a competitor get a foot in the door is always dangerous!
Many contractors believe, however, that it’s not financially viable to buy a PAT tester that may not be used every day. Until recently, they would have had a good case, but now a new generation of simple-to-use and very affordable PAT testers is available.
We’ll look at these instruments shortly, but before doing so there are two things to consider. This first is that, before they start providing PAT testing services, contractors must make sure that they’re competent to do so. Inexpensive short training courses – typically lasting one day – are readily available and are a good option for those contractors who need to brush up on their PAT knowhow.
The second thing to mention is the changes introduced by the fourth edition of the IET Code of Practice for PAT testing, as these still seem to be causing some concern, even though they were introduced as long ago as 2012. In fact, the impact of these changes on test procedures is minimal. The new edition does stress that retest intervals should be decided by risk assessment, but there’s no shortage of guidance online and in print about how to do this.
Let’s now return to the new low-cost PAT testers. What can contractors expect from them? The simplest models don’t even need a mains connection; they’re battery powered and they use the “substitute leakage” method for earth leakage checks. To ensure they’re easy to use and to guard against errors, they feature pre-programmed test groups with fixed pass/fail limits for testing Class I and Class II assets, as well as extension and power leads.
Suitable for carrying out tests on almost all commonly encountered portable appliances, these simple instruments automatically perform the required tests in the correct sequence, with a minimum of user intervention. When the sequence is complete, they immediately give a clear indication of whether the asset has passed or failed. These instruments test insulation at 500 V by default, but they also have a 250 V option for safely testing IT equipment and allow assets with built-in surge protection, extension leads for example, to be tested.
The simple testers are an excellent low-cost resource for PAT testing and will cover most everyday requirements, but experienced electrical contractors may prefer instruments that offer a little more flexibility. For them, testers with extra functions are available, and these are a very good investment as they cost only a little more than the basic models.
These more versatile instruments typically provide facilities for testing RCDs, for mains-powered leakage testing and for making live-circuit measurements to check mains supply and socket polarities. Like the simple models, these instruments use test groups to simplify and speed up the testing process. However, they also allow continuity, insulation, leakage and SELV equipment tests to be carried out individually. In addition, users can set their own choice of pass/fail limits and test durations.
Since these new low-cost PAT testers are so capable, it’s logical to ask why anyone would spend more on a high-end instrument. The answer is productivity. To carry out high-volume PAT testing profitably, test time must be kept to an absolute minimum. For this reason, high-end testers have many time saving features including, for example, internal memory to store results and barcode options to allow assets to be recognised instantly when they are retested.
For contractors that don’t currently offer PAT testing services, however, the new testers are likely to be an ideal choice. In exchange for a very modest investment, they can add a new service to their portfolio, and they’ll never again have to say no to a PAT test request from a valued customer.
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