Electrical safety for UK photographers

Most of us use some sort of mains powered gear and most of us fly with our equipment from time to time. The law regarding what you have to do to comply with the rules around safety of the gear can make pretty good bedtime reading – if you need to go to sleep quickly. Portable Appliance Testing or PAT for short is the stuff of myth and legend and here are a few key points that photographers should be aware of gleaned from the UK Health & Safety Executive’s many handouts on the subject.

Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)

Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Most electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. However, it is essential to understand that visual examination is an essential part of the process because some types of electrical safety defect can’t be detected by testing alone.cutouts

A relatively brief user check (based upon simple training and perhaps assisted by the use of a brief checklist) can be a very useful part of any electrical maintenance regime. However, more formal visual inspection and testing by a competent person may also be required at appropriate intervals, depending upon the type of equipment and the environment in which it is used.

Electricity at Work Regulations 1989

These require that any electrical equipment that has the potential to cause injury is maintained in a safe condition. However, the Regulations do not specify what needs to be done, by whom or how frequently (ie they don’t make inspection or testing of electrical appliances a legal requirement, nor do they make it a legal requirement to undertake this annually).

The frequency of inspection and testing depends upon the type of equipment and the environment it is used in. For example, a power tool used on a construction site should be examined more frequently than a lamp in a hotel bedroom.

So what does this actually mean for photographic equipment? Cameras are not covered by PAT but the batteries and chargers are. Batteries used in 99% of cases are contained and sealed and therefore should only require a visual inspection. Damaged terminals or cracked casings can mean that equipment is not safe and the item should either be disposed of or inspected by an approved repair centre.

Please remember that all batteries now have to be disposed of under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) directives aim to reduce he quantity of waste from electrical and electronic and increase its re-use, recovery and recycling. The RoHS directive aims to limit the environmental impact of electrical and electronic equipment when it reached the end of its life. It does this by minimising the hazardous substances of legislation controlling hazardous substances in electrical equipment across the community.

PAT covers all cables and all electronic equipment rated at over 40Watts – which means pretty much everything that we use. The cables, leads and plugs connected to class 1 equipment (everything we use apart from lighting) should be checked visually for damage, breaks and past repairs on a regular basis and should be checked properly on a cycle of between 6 months and 4 years depending on exactly what it is. In practice that means every six months for cables and every year for power adapters, extension leads and battery chargers. Heavy duty batteries and mains powered lights should be professionally tested at least every two years and more regularly if they are subject to heavy use.

Travelling with batteries

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in association with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the United Nations (UN) set clearly defined rules regarding the air transportation of Li-Ion batteries.

From January 1st 2012, the 53rd Edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations requires the independent testing of each type of Li-Ion battery, not just the individual cells, to ensure that the design and construction are compliant with the stringent United Nations regulations. This is a costly process for the manufacturer, but it should assure you, the customer, that the battery design is safe and of the highest possible professional standard. You should check with the manufacturer  of each type of cell whether they comply with the regulations before you travel by air or on certain rail journeys which feature long tunnels.

  • Check-in of Li-Ion batteries is not allowed unless the battery is attached to the camera or the equipment it powers
  • An individual may take on-board, in hand luggage, an unlimited number of Li-Ion batteries that have capacities of 100Wh or less.
  • Li-Ion batteries that have capacities greater than 100Wh, but less than 160Wh, are restricted to 2 items per person, in hand luggage.
  • Li-Ion batteries that have capacities greater than 160Wh cannot be taken as hand luggage or checked-in under any circumstances.

3 comments

    1. I have the safety certificate which I can send you if you need them. They were officially tested at 47.52 WaH according to the certificate. Email me and I will send them.

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  1. I would add that the only case I have heard of a studio flash related death was caused by a steel step ladder with a leg on the flash lead. The photographer was thrown off the ladder when he took a flash meter reading.

    Photographers working in buildings on location should be aware of 4-phase current. For instance do not run a cable from one hotel floor to another because the floors might be on different phases which doubles the voltage between them.

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