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All about the Formal Visual Inspection

An essential part of the PAT testing process, figures show that the formal visual inspection is actually responsible for finding around 90% of obvious faults with electrical appliances!

But what is the test, and how to do you go about performing it? It’s a relatively simple process that employees should know, and it can be essential in detecting dangerous faults with appliances in the period between PAT testing.

To make things easier, we’ll walk you through how to do each part of the formal visual inspection in a handy step-by-step guide.

Checking the Plug

Plugs are just as important as the appliance itself. If a plug is faulty, it runs the risk of electrical shock, can cause fires and should be in no case be used after faults are found.

If faults are found with the plug then these are must be either replaced or repaired.

  • Obvious damage – this is the most common source of faults within plugs. Moving furniture or appliances and leaving the plug dangling to smash into walls can have extreme effects on the casing of the plug, either weakening it or cracking it directly.
  • Signs of burning or damage to the plug. If there are any of these then replace the plug.
  • Insulated pins. Although not illegal to have them in use it is recommended that any plug without insulation on the live and neutral pins are removed from service.
  • Incorrect fuse sizes. Replace any plug fuse that is found to be overrated.
  • Class 1 appliances – Must have an earth wire fitted into the plug. Fail any Class 1 appliance that has a two core cable fitted.
  • Incorrectly wired. Check the plug to make sure that the terminations are correct and that the live, neutral and earth conductors are connected to the correct terminals.
  • Ensure that the terminations are tight.
  • Bent pin plugs should never be used. They won’t fit correctly into plug sockets, and the results could be extremely dangerous.

Checking Cables

First of all, make sure the appliance you are about to test is switched off and unplugged from the mains before carrying out the checks.

  • Your first step is to visually check the entire length of the cable for obvious signs of damage.  This allows you to see if the wiring is cut at any point or beginning to fray, and both of these problems should be flagged up immediately as a potential hazard.
  • If internal wiring of the cable is exposed, you must fail that cable immediately and seek a replacement.
  • Treat taped cables with great suspicion – tape is usually hiding a big problem and should be removed and the damage assessed. If it looks damaged, stop using it immediately.

After completing a thorough visual check of the cable, also consider the following:

  • Determine whether the position of the cable is safe. If the cable is in a dangerous area that could easily damage it or is a trip hazard, the chances of that cable being damaged increase dramatically. Wherever possible, ensure cables are tidily hidden away and don’t become a risk to anyone.

Although this part of the process is called a ‘visual’ inspection, it’s also important to run your hands across the cable to look for any obvious signs of damage that your eyes might have missed. This often flags up problems that might have gone unnoticed, and is an essential part of carrying out the test. If you are going to do this ensure the appliance is unplugged as you could receive a shock should the cables’ insulation be damaged.

Check the Appliance Itself

As part of your visual inspection you must check over the appliance for obvious signs of damage.

Watch out for:

  • Cracks – these can easily lead to bigger problems and expose the appliance to the elements. It could also mean a breakdown in the insulated properties of the electrical circuit.
  • Chemical damage – corrosive chemicals can have a disastrous effect on an appliance, so watch out for obvious signs such as chemical burning.
  • Corrosion – some appliances may degrade over time, and any corrosion of the appliance itself is a significant hazard to the user.
  • Don’t obstruct appliance fans – these are there for a reason and that reason is to cool down the appliance. By blocking the fans, you’re running the risk that the appliance could overheat.
  • Don’t place towels to dry on top of portable heaters – they aren’t there for this purpose, and it is a significant fire risk.
  • Any lamps that are 100W should be fitted with the correct shade. Those without are also a fire risk.
  • Don’t put water close to an appliance – water and electricity don’t mix.
  • Check for obvious signs of overheating – place appliances relatively far apart from one another, make sure ventilation slots aren’t obscured and remove any overheated items from service immediately
  • Ensure the casing around the appliance is fastened correctly – class II appliances in particular run a massive risk of electrical shock if the casing is open, as they rely on the insulated properties of the casing.
  • Check the appliance has a rating plate – if it doesn’t, it isn’t legally safe to use and must be removed from active service immediately.
  • Check the mains cable – give it a tug and if there’s excess movement, it’s more than likely that the mains cable could come out, which isn’t safe.
  • Check the on off switch is not damaged and operates correctly.

Check the Mains Socket Outlet

While the mains socket isn’t subjected to a PAT test, it is still eligible for a visual check. The main testing of sockets is done during a fixed wiring test, but this is separate to the PAT test.

Watch out for the following problems with mains sockets:

  • Cracks – just like anything else that uses electricity, cracks in the casing of mains sockets are extremely dangerous and could cause electrical shocks or fires.
  • No obvious signs of overheating – again, make sure that there’s no burn marks on the sockets.
  • Check that the shutter mechanism over Live and Neutral pin sockets is working correctly.
  • The socket shouldn’t be loose from where it is installed. Make sure it’s clearly fastened.
  • The switch on the plug should do what it’s meant to. It shouldn’t be loose, faulty or not work at all.
  • Make sure there’s a way to turn off appliances in an emergency (usually via an isolation switch).

RCD (Residual Current Device) Checks

RCDs will trip if the current flowing through the live is different to that of the current flowing through the neutral conductor. They are generally fitted with a test button.

To check your RCDs, look out for:

  • Damage – if there’s any obvious defects, you’re going to need a new RCD.
  • Operating current should be 30mA or less. You may need an electrician to check this for you.
  • RCDs include a test button. Press it, and if the power is switched off you know your RCD is working correctly.

Don’t Neglect To Check the Environment!

As part of the visual check, you need to take a look at the area where you work and assess how safe it is.

  • For example, trailing cables all over the floor doesn’t just look untidy; it’s a massive electrical and trip hazard as well.
  • Similarly, only use appliances where they’re meant to be used. Don’t take a lamp outside in the rain. Don’t pop a microwave in a cupboard and switch it on. Use your common sense and make the environment around you as safe as possible.
  • Don’t overpopulate everywhere with extension leads. Wherever possible do a reshuffle or your space and move an appliance nearer to a plug.
  • Never leave appliances on overnight where they are not required!


Formal Visual Inspections may seem like a bit of a chore, but we can’t stress enough how important they are.

Make sure you note down that you’ve completed the visual inspection via a written record for each of the checks that you complete and leave no stone unturned in your office.

Electrical safety and visual inspections ensure you’re taking the necessary steps to promote electrical safety within your working environment.

Written by Barry Atkins