Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) explained

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In my blog A Musician's Guide to PLI, I briefly mentioned the importance of PAT, or Portable Appliance Testing. This article explains PAT in more depth, including why it's important and how to get it.

1. What is PAT?

PAT is a procedure in which an electrician uses a combination of visual and machine inspection to certify that your equipment is safe for use. Having a PAT certificate less than twelve months old is very important for any musician who uses electrical equipment while working.

2. Which equipment needs PAT?

  • Equipment that draws its power from the mains
  • Low-voltage keyboards whose power supplies connect to the mains at one end
  • Very powerful speaker systems (cables should be visually inspected for broken insulation as quite high voltages can be present)
  • Self-powered (or active) speakers as the mains-powered amplifier is integral to the design

3. Which equipment doesn't need PAT?

  • Microphones
  • Electric guitars
  • Low-voltage keyboards (except those whose power supplies connect to the mains at one end)
  • Micro-voltage audio leads (XLR cables, guitar leads)
  • Battery-operated equipment
  • Low-voltage equipment
  • Passive speakers

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What equipment do you have that needs a PAT certificate?

4. Why is PAT important?

Many venues will not allow you to play if you use electrical equipment and do not have a PAT certificate. This is generally because their own insurance requires PAT certificates from musicians.

Furthermore, if a claim is made against you because of injury or damage caused by your equipment, your insurance provider may refuse to pay if you cannot prove that you took adequate measures to ensure the safety of your equipment.

And finally, Encore will soon be adding a PAT badge to our profiles so that clients can see easily who is PAT certified. So getting your equipment tested makes you more attractive to clients!

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The Health and Safety Executive's publication Maintaining Portable Electrical Equipment contains valuable information on PAT.

5. How often should I get my equipment tested?

Common sense indicates that you should visually inspect your equipment yourself every time you use it, but there are no specific laws regarding how frequently you should have formal PAT testing. Your legal obligation is a duty of care to make sure that your equipment is safe, so it's up to you to determine how often you need inspections.

Venues' insurance requirements generally stipulate that a certificate be no more than twelve months old. Occasionally, a three- or six-month certificate may be recommended for a major touring band, while a certificate longer than twelve months is likely to be rejected.

You should also keep a record of each time the equipment has been tested and get a certificate from whoever carries out your test - again, this is important proof that you have fulfilled your obligations to keep your equipment in safe working order.

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When coiling cable, do not wrap it tightly around anything. This stretches and stresses the cable, which would otherwise last for many years.

6. Where do I get PAT?

There are many companies which specialise in PAT, including some who work with musicians, and many electricians will be able to conduct a PAT as well. A quick Google search will point you toward the ones nearest you, and of course, asking your colleagues is always a good idea!

7. How much does PAT cost?

Prices vary between electricians/companies, but are generally somewhere between £3 - £7/item, with bulk discounts generally available. So if you have 15 pieces of equipment, you can probably get your certificate for around £30 - £50. It's generally very easy to ask for a free quote from the electrician/PAT company nearest you.

Don't forget that you can tax-deduct PAT as a business expense if you are self-employed!

Many venues require a recent PAT certificate before they will allow you to play.

8. What does PAT involve?

There are two components to the full test: a visual inspection and an electrical inspection with machines that measure your equipment. Machines can test at either 240v or 110v.

When visually inspecting equipment yourself, keep an eye out for:

  • broken or cracked plugs
  • burn or heat damage
  • a cable that's come out of its restraining clamp or is obviously damaged
  • incorrect fuse ratings.
  • physical damage
  • detachable cables whose sockets have become significantly loose.

It's easy for the mains cable to work its way loose from the body of the power supply - this would fail a PAT as the risk of those exposed cables fraying and becoming exposed is considerable.

You should also check that:

  • the terminals are tight inside plugs
  • the cord grip is doing its job
  • the correct fuse rating for the cable/appliance is being used - this is probably the most important part of PAT and requires no machine or special knowledge.

Thanks to Clive Gregory at PAT4Music for his help with this blog. Clive provides an online PAT certificate, which musicians can easily share with venues.

Disclaimer: this blog post does not constitute legal or electrical advice. Please discuss your requirements with a qualified electrician/PAT company.


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