What is a portable appliance and Which appliances need testing?

For the purpose of the legislation, a portable electrical appliance is taken to be an item of equipment which is not part of a fixed installation but is, or is intended to be, connected to fixed installation, or a generator, using a flexible cable and a plug and socket.

Phew, heavy stuff eh? In layman's term this means that any item with a plug is Portable Appliance. This would include electric drills, kettles, PCs, printers, monitors, extension lead and even some large items such as vending machines and photocopiers.

Basically all type`s of appliances powered by an electrical supply.

The IEE Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment states that this Code of Practice

covers the following :

Portable Appliances

An appliance of less than 18 kg in mass that is intended to be moved while in operation or an appliance which can easily be moved from one place to another, e.g., toaster, food mixer, vacuum cleaner, fan heater.

Movable Equipment

This is equipment, which is either: 18 kg or less in mass and not fixed, e.g., electric fire, or equipment with wheels, castors or other means to ease movement by the operator as required to perform its intended use, e.g., air conditioning unit.

Hand-held Appliances

This is portable equipment intended to be held in the hand during normal use, e.g., hair dryer, drill, soldering iron

Stationary Equipment or Appliances

This equipment has a mass exceeding 18 kg and is not provided with a carrying handle, e.g., refrigerator, washing machine.

Fixed Equipment/Appliances

This is equipment of an appliance, which is fastened to a support or otherwise secured in a specified location, e.g., bathroom heater, towel rail.

Appliances/Equipment for Building in

This equipment is intended to be installed in a prepared recess such as a cupboard or similar. In general, equipment for building in does not have an enclosure on all sides because on one or more of the sides, additional protection against electric shock is provided by the surroundings e.g., a built-in electric cooker.

Information Technology Equipment

Information technology equipment includes electrical business equipment such as computer and mains powered telecommunications equipment, and other equipment for general business use, such as mail processing machines, electric plotters, trimmers, VDU's, data terminal equipment, typewriters, telephones, printers, photo-copiers, power packs.

Extension Leads

The use of extension leads should be avoided where possible. If used, they should be tested as portable appliances. It is recommended that 3-core leads (including a protective earth conductor) be used.

A standard 13 A 3-pin extension socket-outlet with a 2-core cable should never be used even if the appliance to be used in Class II, as it would not provide protection against electrical shock if used at any time with an item of Class I equipment.

The length of an extension lead for general use should not exceed the following:

Core Area Maximum Length

  • 1.25mm 12 meters
  • 1.5mm 15 meters
  • 2.5mm 25 meters*
  • 2.5mm cables are too large for standard 13 A plugs, but they may be used with BS EN 60309 industrial plugs.
  • These maximum lengths are not applicable to the flex of an appliance, for guidance refer to paragraph 15.13 (IEE Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment)

    If extension lead lengths do exceed the above, they shall be protected by a 30 mA RCD manufactured to BS 7071.


    There are different classifications for electrical appliances and the tests that are required, below are some classification examples and the applied testing.

    Each appliance will undergo a thorough visual inspection to check the correct fuse type is fitted and to ensure that there are no signs of damage to the flex, casing or plug.

    Class 1. This equipment includes toasters, kettles, irons, microwaves, fridge freezers, heaters etc. These items require an earth continuity test, insulation resistance test and a protective earth conductor current test.

    Class 2. This equipment includes some stereo equipment, televisions, lamps, vacuum cleaners etc. These items require an insulation resistance test and touch current test.

    Information technology equipment (IT) includes computers, telecommunications, monitors, printers etc. These items require an earth continuity test and an insulation resistance test.

    Extension leads and detachable cables such as a IEC lead are classed as a separate item and require an earth continuity test, an insulation resistance test and a polarity test.

    Hand held equipment includes appliance intended to be held in the hand during normal use, drills, hair dryers etc. Most of these appliances are class 2 but occasionally can be class 1