Background on the IET code
Just to give a little bit of background; the Electricity at Work Regulations (EWR) came into force in 1989, since which electrical safety management has been regularly debated and how businesses could comply with the requirements of the Regulations in the workplace.
‘Electrical equipment’, is defined in the Code as an “Any item for such purposes as generation, conversion, transmission, distribution or utilization of electrical energy, such as machines, transformers, equipment, measuring instruments, protective devices, wiring systems, accessories, appliances and luminaires.” Electrical equipment, therefore, includes most (if not all) of the items of electrical equipment to be found in a workplace, whether they have a plug or not.
The forthcoming 5th Edition of the Code aims to better cover the original intent of managing electrical equipment in the workplace that is not covered under other maintenance regimes, such as the electrical installation itself (e.g. covered by the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)).
The equipment may or may not be fitted with a flex and plug but could also be wired into the installation, such as an air-conditioning unit or a security access control system. These types of equipment often fall through the gap of in-service inspection and testing, with the person conducting the (EICR) stopping at the fused connection unit or isolator supplying the equipment, and the ‘PAT’ tester seeing it as part of the installation itself, and not a portable appliance.
The 5th Edition of the Code, therefore, makes no mention of the words ‘portable’ or ‘appliance’, other than in the preface, as the key focus is on the verification of equipment for safety in continued use.
Is it Appliance or Equipment?
Whilst we are all familiar with portable appliance testing, the approach in most workplaces is simply to check those items fitted with a plug that are – to varying degrees – ‘portable’.
An appliance, however, is actually defined in standards as “apparatus intended for household or similar use”, which of course excludes many types of electrical equipment found in the workplace. It’s also to note that generally, the (EWR) does not apply at home in a domestic setting, with a few limited exceptions. It can be seen that use of the word ‘appliance’ is not representative of what the COPISITEE seeks to embrace, namely ‘electrical equipment’ that is ‘in-service’, i.e. used at work.
Looking at ‘electrical equipment’, this is actually defined in the Code as an “Any item for such purposes as generation, conversion, transmission, distribution or utilization of electrical energy, such as machines, transformers, equipment, measuring instruments, protective devices, wiring systems, accessories, appliances and luminaires.”. Electrical equipment, therefore, includes appliances such as washing machines and vacuums.
An Overview of the Changes in the 5th edition of the IET
The latest Code is laid out to guide the reader through the need for electrical maintenance, the legal requirements, the competencies of those conducting the work, types of equipment and tests, as well as a section on the frequency of inspection and testing.
New appendices include guidance on low-risk equipment and environments such as an IT server rack, a basic electrical theory primer, a workplace poster for user-checks and example risk assessments for ascertaining the frequency of testing.
The revision also reflects on modern equipment and practices, with commentary on second-hand and hired equipment, as well as on the perennial issue of equipment that may be fake or sourced from suppliers where its provenance may be in doubt.
The classifications for safety are now described as ‘energy source classes’, which is subtly different to the previous methods of description. While to the end-user the changes may be of little consequence in practice, it is important that those performing the inspection and testing of electrical equipment understand the new classifications.
The conducted tests are another area of change, with the inclusion of a flowchart to aid those performing the inspection and testing to select appropriate tests according to the equipment. Again, the focus has been on the verification of equipment for electrical safety for continued use, and this has led to the list of required tests being revised.
For example, some items of Class II equipment may no longer require testing, with a visual inspection being satisfactory on its own. The high-current earth bond test has given way to a preference for a lower-current one. The insulation testing voltage has also been revised, taking into account the design of modern electrical and electronic equipment.
A significant change is a complete review of the frequency of testing, currently exampled in Table 7.1 of the 4th Edition. This table has been removed from the 5th Edition.
The 5th Edition of the IET Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment is currently due for publication in September 2020, although given the ongoing Covid-19 situation, the date is subject to change.