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Electrical safety at work
Portable electrical equipment could cause an electric shock or burn, or fire due to damage, wear or misuse. Dental practice owners need to ensure that the portable electrical equipment in their practice is tested and maintained in a safe condition. The maintenance plan should be based on a straightforward system of user checks, formal visual inspection and testing. User checks and formal visual inspections can be carried out by a competent employee who has had suitable training, skills and knowledge for the task to prevent injury to themselves or others. Testing of equipment may need a greater degree of competence. Common sense must prevail of course and portable electrical equipment should only be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, for its intended purpose, and in the environment it was designed and constructed for.
The legal requirements relating specifically to the use and maintenance of electrical equipment are contained in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. These Regulations apply to all work activities involving electrical equipment. They place duties on employers, the self-employed and employees.
These duties are intended to control risks arising from the use of electricity. The Regulations require that electrical systems and equipment must be maintained, so far as reasonably practicable, to prevent danger. This requirement covers all items of electrical equipment including fixed or portable equipment.
The Regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently (for example, they do not make it a legal requirement to test all portable electrical appliances every year). This allows the employer to select precautions appropriate to the risk rather than having precautions imposed that may not be relevant to a particular work activity. A risk assessment should be carried out to identify hazards and adopt appropriate measures to reduce the risk. Where the practice has less than 5 employees there is no need to have a written record of the assessment. If there are 5 or more employees a written risk assessment is required by law. Effective maintenance of portable electric equipment can be achieved by a combination of checks by the user, formal visual inspections by a competent person and where necessary a combined inspection and test, also known as a portable appliance test (PAT), by an electrically competent person.
The members of staff using the equipment should be encouraged to look for signs that it may not be in a sound condition such as damage to the supply cable, damage to the plug or connector, inadequate joints, including taped joints in the cable, damage to the external casing of the equipment, loose parts or screws and any evidence of overheating (burn marks or discolouration).
Formal visual inspections
These can normally be carried out by a member of staff who has sufficient information and knowledge of what to look for and what is acceptable. Visual inspection includes checks to see whether the electrical equipment is being used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, there are no signs of internal damage, overheating or water damage to the plug, the correct fuse is in use, the wires including the earth, where fitted, are attached to the correct terminals, the terminal screws are tight, the cord grip is holding the outer part of the cable tightly and that no bare wire is visible.
Combined inspection and test (PAT)
Some faults can only be reliably detected by a combined visual inspection and test. This should be carried out regularly to back up the checks and inspections at periods appropriate to the equipment, the manner and frequency of use and the environment. The inspection carried out in conjunction with testing should usually include checking the correct polarity of supply cables, the correct fusing, effective termination of cables and cores and that the equipment is suitable for its environment. Combined inspection and testing requires a greater degree of competence than for inspection alone, because appropriate electrical knowledge is needed to undertake the tests and interpret the test results.
Maintenance, test records and labelling
There is no legal requirement to keep maintenance logs for portable electrical equipment. However, a suitable log is useful as a management tool for monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the maintenance plan. While not required by law, practices with large amounts of equipment may find it useful to label equipment to indicate that the equipment has been tested satisfactorily and has been passed as safe, and when it was tested. If a label is applied then there should not be a next test due date on it. The person carrying out the testing should not assess when the next test is due as this decision should be made by the practice owner based on a risk assessment. An interval of 2 years would be acceptable for dental practices unless the risk assessment has identified that other timescales may be more suitable.
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