Understanding the confusion over fixed appliance testing

There is much confusion over what is a fixed appliance and what should be tested, so this article is an attempt to balance the understanding.Hair dryer fixed appliance

Firstly you need to know the differences in fixed appliances – any appliance that is wired directly into the mains electricity (without using a plug) is fixed, but not all fixed appliances would be designed as a portable appliance.

A portable appliance is one that is manufactured to have a plug attached to the flexible cable to plug it in to power it; only when such an appliance has had the plug removed and been wired directly does it fall into the scope of portable appliance testing.

You’ll often see in the toilets of gyms or swimming baths, hairdryers where the cable goes into a ‘fuse spur’; the hairdryer was originally made to have a plug on, and during installation the plug has been removed and the lead ‘wired’ in. The hairdryer is still a hand-held appliance and thus still requires inspecting and testing under the remit of portable appliance testing.

However, a cooker or wall fixed water heater in a kitchen and an electric shower in a bathroom were not intended to be plugged into a socket when the manufacturer designed them so they should be tested as part of the main installation test, done by an electrician.

The amount of confusion over this is understandable as a suppliers and manufacturers of electrical testing equipment often promote fixed appliance testing suggesting all appliances need testing.

The Code of Practice for in-service inspection and testing of electrical equipment, by the IET, often referred to as the ‘rule book’ rather than the correct ‘guidance book’ term by some doesn’t help to diffuse the confusion in it’s opening paragraph on fixed equipment: “an item of fixed equipment or a fixed appliance is equipment that is fastened to a support or otherwise secured in a specified location eg central heating boiler, hand drier, fixed air conditioning unit, bathroom heater, electric towel rail, immersion heater, luminaire (light fitting), water boiler etc. (see figure 5.5)” – figure 5.5. is an image of a hand drier and a tea-urn type water boiler, each with a trailing cable and attached to a spur.

The description isn’t clear in its message that although all these appliances are considered fixed, none of them were intended to have a plug on, and thus are not classed as portable. The image is misleading as it doesn’t stipulate whether the cable in view is inside or outside the wall; the hand drier was never intended to be used with a plug, whereas the tea-urn boiler is.

The next paragraph is a little bit clearer and should in my opinion be the first paragraph; the first paragraph should be re-written to show what is out of scope with portable appliance testing.

“fixed equipment can also be movable or portable equipment, when connected to the fixed installation via a fused connection unit for security purposes. This practice is common in areas used by the general public, eg hotels, changing rooms etc. Equipment types connected in this way are numerous eg kettles, standard lamps, minibar fridges, hair driers, clock radios, coffee makers, etc.”

In my opinion the whole section should be re-written a bit like this:

Some portable appliances may be fixed to the mains supply for security or safety in certain environments such as hotels and changing rooms; these appliances are manufactured with the intention of being used with a plug then the plug is removed for installation. The appliance can still be moved although it will still be connected (which is within the remit for portable appliance testing – link). Examples of this include kettles, standard lamps, minibar fridges, hair driers, clock radios, coffee makers, etc.

To prevent any confusion an appliance that was not intended to have a plug and can’t be moved because it is fitted to a wall (for example) on such as a cooker, hand-dryer or electric shower does not fall within scope of portable appliance testing and should not be tested as such – these would be be within scope of electrical installation maintenance. 

Fixed appliances are more difficult to test because they are wired in and so unless the engineer is an electrician or trained in safe isolation he/she should not attempt to unwire the appliance to test in. In these circumstances the engineer should do the best visual inspection they can and then report to their site contact that they can’t test the wiring, recommending it be checked by an electrician periodically under the remit of the fixed installation test (PAT inspects the appliance, and cable – electrician checks & tests the wiring).

Some PAT engineers may have suitable PAT machines that do point to point tests which makes testing of these appliances possible; the Seaward Apollo series of machines do this for example.

For the purpose of this article we are only considering what should be done by the PAT person, not what the electrician would do.

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