Malfunctioning equipment can cause potential electrical hazards and serious risk to employees at the worksite. To ensure that all electrical gear and appliances are safe to use, state and federal laws mandate regular testing. This is covered in WorkSafe (SafeWork in NSW) laws, as well as federal electrical standards. Tests are usually done on a quarterly basis for equipment and appliances already in use, carried out by a competent person, and involves the use of test and tag equipment.
What is a Testing and Tagging?
Testing and tagging is a procedure done on all electrical devices used on site or in the field to ensure that they are in working order, and don’t present a risk. This encompasses three distinct parts. First, the electrical appliances are visually inspected for potential damage. This includes the appliance itself as well as accessories like connectors, plugs and sockets.
The insulation is also inspected for obvious signs of wear. The appliances are then connected to convenient portable test and tag equipment to be tested for insulation resistance, earth continuity and lead polarity. The results are then ‘tagged’ or written down on tags informing staff and management whether the tested appliance can be used safely, or needs to be sidelined and repaired.
Is Testing and Tagging Necessary?
To comply with current Work Health and Safety regulations, appliances, devices, and equipment at any worksite must be tested within a defined period. Testing is carried out according to Australian Standard 3760 from 2010. An exception to this is brand new equipment that has not been used.
Separate standards (AS/NZS 3012: 2010) are in place for testing and tagging electrical devices and equipment used in construction, demolition, and mining sites. Failing to comply with the set standards, and in the case of a worksite injury or fatality due to faulty equipment, can lead to legal action.
Type of Equipment Tested
Testing and tagging is done on ‘portable electrical equipment’ or appliances and devices that can be moved around the worksite and connected to a power outlet. They have a cable lead and plug. Typical instances include laptops, desktops, heaters, kettles, drills, microwaves, hair dryers, fans, lamps, TVs, radios, printers, photocopiers, and portable air conditioners. This also encompasses various chargers and adapters, as well as 3-phase equipment and RCDs.
The equipment can either be categorised as Class I with an earth connection, to prevent electrical shock in case of a fault, or Class II double insulated equipment to prevent contact with live parts. Kettles and fridges are examples of Class I, and power tools and computers as Class II equipment.
What does a Test and Tag Involve?
Visual Inspection – Users of electrical equipment should carry out regular checks before use. A formal visual inspection can verify most faults even before the use of test and tag equipment. All items that are to be tested are first disconnected from the power supply and thoroughly inspected. Plugs will have no visible cracks or discolouring, and the pins should sit tightly with the appropriate terminals. Cables will have insulation that is intact, without visible fraying. The appliance or device is then inspected for any signs of damage, like cracks or rusting. Lastly, RCDs are checked by tripping the safety switch to ensure that it cuts the power supply in a timely manner.
Using a Portable Appliance Tester – After the visual inspection, the assigned technician or tester uses a portable appliance tester to ensure that the appliance or device is not a safety trap. The testing unit measures earth continuity to ensure that there is no risk of current leakage in the case of a current surge and earth fault. Insulation resistance measures the condition of the insulation in resisting the flow of electric current. Lead polarity tests ensure that conductors are connected the right way, so as to avoid short circuiting and electrical fires. Most portable appliance testers (PAT) will also have an RCD testing and electrical lead testing function. There are also testers that are packaged with printers to print tags on site. Some also have inbuilt Bluetooth for wirelessly relaying results to other devices.
Results and Tagging – The testing unit displays tested parameters on an LCD screen, and will often have color-coded (green/red) confirmation for a passed or failed test. Tags need to contain the name of the tester or company, the date the test was conducted, and the date of the next scheduled test. Failed appliances and equipment must be removed from the site immediately and, replaced with other units or repaired and then should undergo another series of testing. Tags are only standardised in the construction, mining, demolition and marine sectors. Here red tags are used for testing done between December to February, green tags for March to May, blue tags form June to August, and yellow tags from September to November.
Who Can do a Test and Tag Procedure?
As defined by the Australian AS/NZS 3760 Standard, tests and tags can be carried out by a ‘competent’ person – either a fully licensed or certified electrician, an electrical inspector or someone who has successfully passed a Portable Appliance Tester training program.