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Testing and Tagging - money-making scheme?

Testing and tagging is an Official Safety and Health requirement for businesses and organisations within New Zealand. It involves having electrical devices - no matter how small or insignificant - tested for standards compliance and basic faults. But how rigorous is this testing, and is it even having any positive effect regarding computers? Let's take a look.

Now, first of all, most devices which are less than two years old do not need to be tested and tagged. There are rigorous standards applied to most electronic devices before they can be sold within New Zealand, which makes usually testing of new items redundant (refurbished or ex-lease equipment might need a look though). Also, devices that are hard-wired into a facility do not need to be tested. The regime largely applies to devices which are portable or which have the possibility of being moved/unplugged. This of course include almost all computers.

But there is no regulatory body for testing and tagging, no qualifications necessary to do the job; not even basic electrical knowledge. Training involves buying a standardised electrical testing unit (PAT) and being trained on how to use it. Is this sufficient? I took a bunch of equipment I needed for a particular multimedia job to a tester in Hamilton. I knew all of it to be working fine, aside from the power adaptor for a laptop, which I knew was creating excessively noisy power, to the extent that if it were plugged into the same 4-plug adaptor as a TV, lines would appear on the screen.

Now, the only device out of 16 to be faulted was a long extension cord which I've used quite happily for several years for vacuum cleaning. But the tester couldn't really tell me what was wrong with it. In fact he couldn't tell my electronics-enthusiast friend, who was helping me shift the equipment, what the testing device even did. All he knew was whether or not the device faulted the equipment. Meanwhile, several power cords with serious dents in them went unnoticed; and of course my laptop adaptor came through with flying colours.

The PAT testing device itself is, for all intents and purposes, a dumbed-down multimeter. It's designed to be used by someone with minimal knowledge so that workplace appliances can get a screening from the most obvious faults, but it's no substitute for an electrician, or someone experienced with electronic equipment. Given that that's the case, is it even worth doing? Let's put this into perspective. How many accidents are caused per-year by appliances and electrical equipment?

According to the NZ Energy Safety Service's electrical accident reports from 2019, over a 1-year period, 125 electrical accidents caused injury to 134 people, with only 20% of the accidents being due to a lack of maintenance, and half involving power lines, not appliances. Note: injury, not necessarily death. Clearly not many people have died as the result of untested electrical appliances, as the total number of workplace fatalities, by any cause, from 2011 through to 2017 was 317 people, according to Worksafe NZ. Meanwhile, accidents involving trampolines exceeded 1000 per month in New Zealand according to the 2018 ACC report.

Someone involved in the testing and tagging industry will of course tell you, well, think how much worse it would be if we didn't have testing and tagging. That may well be the case for many electrical appliances. But as someone who's been working with computers for 25 years, I have never seen one explode or catch fire, nor have I heard of anyone being injured while fixing them or using them (occasionally a minimal shock might occur, but being cut by sharp metal edges is much more common).

So, get your items tested and tagged if you must. Clearly some appliances carry heavier power loads and are therefore more dangerous than others, and in those cases testing and tagging may genuinely screen out basic faults. But for computers at least, testing and tagging is an unregulated and expensive waste of time and effort, in my view.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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