Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Who should have medical electrical safety testing performed?
The requirement for electrical safety testing arises from the use of electrically powered equipment for the medical treatment, diagnosis or monitoring of patients. Facilities that use such equipment include hospitals, medical practices and health centres, dental practices, radiology facilities and physiotherapy clinics.
Why is Safety Testing Required?
Electrical appliances are susceptible to wear and tear when in regular use and as a result faults may develop that could be injurious to an operator or patient. Such faults may not be readily apparent without the use of measuring instruments or a trained eye to identify potential hazards. Routine safety testing is intended to identify faults and hazards before they cause injury.
Patients in medical care may be more susceptible to the effects of electric shock. They may be unable to move away from the source of the electricity, they may be frail or unwell and they may have lowered skin resistance due to sweating, the application of agents such as ECG or ultrasound gel, or the use of needles and surgical instruments. For this reason medical electrical appliances must meet special mandatory requirements and be regularly tested as laid out in AS/NZS3551
- What does testing involve?
Testing covers both individual items of medical equipment (appliances) and the facilities in which they are used (installation). Appliance tests comprise a physical check of the condition of the equipment, electrical measurements of earthing integrity, insulation resistance and leakage currents, as well as an operational check known as performance verification. Installation tests check the correct operation of RCDs in Body Protected areas and the condition of electrical fittings.
- What equipment has to be tested?
Any electrical equipment that is used, under medical supervision, to diagnose, treat or monitor a patient must be tested. Examples of such appliances would be: examination lamp, nebuliser, diathermy, ultrasound, ECG. Although battery operated equipment falls under the definition, this does not generally require safety testing unless it is capable of harming a patient or operator in the event of a fault. Such items may still require a performance verification (e.g. a tympanic thermometer). Appliances such as sterilisers, heaters, electric fans, radios and computers are not considered medical appliances, but if they are located within a Body Protected Area, they must also be tested to the medical standard (AS/NZS3551).
- What is Performance Verification?
Performance verification is a test that an appliance is working as intended. Only basic tests that can be performed on site are undertaken and in some cases it may be recommended that critical appliances are returned to the service agent for a detailed test and calibration.
- Do you check scales?
Yes we do. Meditest can now undertake calibration checks on baby/infant and adult scales. Please advise us when making your booking if you requrie your scales checked so as we can bring the calibraiton weights. They are very heavy so we don't always carry them unless they are needed.
- Do you check autoclaves?
No we don't. There are a number of companies that specailise in ths work, so we leave it to them. If you don't already have a service company for your autoclave, we can recommend one.
- Do you check vaccine fridges?
No we don't. In our region vaccine fridges are checked as part of the national cold chain manageent program managed by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). Contact your PHO for more information.
- What is the correct standard to use when testing medical electrical appliances?
AS/NZS3551 is the correct standard for testing medical electrical appliances. This should not be confused with AS/NZS3760, which is used by electricians and test and tag companies for general appliance testing. When obtaining prices for electrical safety testing, please ensure that the correct standard will be used.
- I have an appliance that was not specifically designed as a medical appliance that I use for patient treatment. Does it still need to be tested and to what standard?
Any electrical appliance used for medical treatment, diagnosis or monitoring must be tested to AS/NZS3551 regardless of whether it was originally designed for medical use. If it does not pass the relevant tests it may not be used.
- What is a Body Protected Area?
A Body Protected Area is an area within a medical facility where patients are treated, diagnosed or monitored using medical electrical appliances. There are a number of requirements for such areas including that electrical outlets are protected by a 10mA RCD (a special safety switch). Body Protected Areas must be certified every 12 months.
- Our treatment rooms are not Body Protected Areas. What should we do?
Firstly, talk to us. Body Protected Areas are not always necessary, but may be indicated after a risk analysis. Most facilities can be successfully retrofitted and we are happy to give advice about this to our customers. We will most likely recommend that any work needed is completed by your normal electrician, or we can refer you to a suitably experienced contractor to do this for you.
- What is an RCD?
RCD stands for 'Residual Current Device'. These are a special type of safety switch that interrupts the power when a dangerous situation is sensed. All medical electrical appliances must be used in conjunction with an RCD and a special medical grade RCD is required (10mA, Type 1). We usually recommend the use of RCD-protected socket outlets rather than the in-line cord types.
- Is electrical safety testing compulsory for healthcare facilities?
Yes it is, but only for areas where patients are treated, diagnosed or monitored using medical electrical appliances. The requirements for this are laid out in the Electricity Regulations 2010, which calls on three standards to describe what is required. These are:
AS/NZS2500 Guide to the safe use of electricity in patient care
AS/NZS3003 Electrical installations - patient areas
AS/NZS3551 Management programs for medical equipment
At this time the Energy Safety (part of Work Safe NZ) does not actively police this section of the Electricity Regulations, but instead take the stand that ignorance of the law does not provide an excuse for not complying with it. It is the responsibility of medical practices to be aware of such laws that may affect the running of their business. Likewise Health and Safety at Work Act also calls for a safe workplace for both staff and patients.
- What will happen if we don't have our equipment tested?
If you knowingly or unknowingly operate an unsafe appliance, someone may be hurt or even killed. As a result any or all of the following may occur:
- You may face legal action by Energy Safety (part of Work Safe NZ)
- You may face legal action by the injured party
- Your insurance cover may be invalidated
- Your ACC levies may be increased
- There may be a police inquiry in the event of a death and you could be charged
- You may receive bad publicity from the media
- The cost of defending legal action and meeting any penalty imposed is likely
to be substantial in terms of money, time and lost income.
- We need to have our equipment and installation tested for accreditation. Will the service offered by Meditest be acceptable?
Because the testing procedures used by Meditest conform to AS/NZS3551, they will meet the requirements of all New Zealand accreditation programmes. In some cases where a traceable full calibration check is required for accreditation, this must be undertaken as a separate procedure by the relevant service agency. Likewise some radiology equipment will require specialised checks be the appropriate agencies.
- How frequently are tests required?
AS/NZS3551 recommends testing of appliances at intervals of between 3 and 12 months, depending on the environment in which they are used. In General Practices an interval of 12 months between tests is usually acceptable, however in some situations 6-monthly testing may be advised.
- Why do medical appliances need clear top plugs?
Each time an appliance is tested, the connections to the mains cord must be checked to make sure that the wires go to the correct pins of the 3-pin plug. To avoid dismantling the plug each time, either transparent top plugs or moulded (non-rewireable) plugs are used. This is now a requirement of AS/NZS3551. All mains plugs must have a secure cord grip.
- How long do tests take?
It takes longer to test some types of equipment than others. A simple double-insulated appliance can normally be tested in about 10 minutes. An ECG may take 15 minutes.
- When is the best time of day to have our testing done?
We prefer to work when you aren't working. Over the years we have learned that trying to work around the activities of a busy practice is not the best way. We need to take equipment out of service, interrupt power and turn off computers. We also need access to the rooms where the business happens, and sometimes even to shift the furniture - none of which makes us friends in the middle of a busy work day! We will happily schedule our testing at the end of your work day, or even on a Saturday, at no extra charge.
- Do you need to turn the power off?
For appliance testing we usually do not need to turn off the electricity supply. For testing of RCDs and Body Protected Areas, we do need to trip the RCDs and disrupt the power. For this reason it is important that computers are shut down while we do these tests, and it also pays to shut down the network server during this time. For most practices this work will be least disruptive at a time when you are not seeing patients.
- Who can undertake Medical Electrical Safety Testing?
Safety testing can only be performed by a suitably trained person. Usually this person will be a registered electrical/electronics technician, a registered electrician, or a registered electrical inspector, but it is also important that these people must be properly trained in the testing of medical electrical appliances. Each of Meditest's engineers are hospital trained and we consider ourselves to be the local experts in the field.
- What is the difference between Medical Electrical Safety Testing and safety testing of other appliances?
The testing requirements for medical electrical appliances under AS3551 are more stringent and extensive than for appliances in general use (which are tested to AS3760). There is also a requirement that measurements observed during testing be documented. General appliance testing is insufficient for fulfilling the obligations for medical practices. Beware that many electricians are not aware of this.
- Does Meditest undertake repairs?
Meditest is a specialist safety testing company rather than a repair company. During the course of our work we may complete minor repairs on your equipment so that it passes the safety tests. This includes such things as replacing faulty 3-pin plugs, fixing poor earthing, and tightening loose fixtures. However we do not pretend to be 'Jacks of all trades', and we believe that more complex repair work is best left to other specialists in their respective areas. Also, we see repair work as something of a conflict of interest, so our policy is to refer you to the relevant service agency.
- Why it is important that Meditest's engineers are fully licenced electrical workers?
Not all testing companies use fully licensed staff, but without current registration and a practising licence they are unable to legally carry out repair work. We estimate that one in every 20 tests requires some sort of repair that must be done by a properly licenced person. We are usually able to do this during the course of our testing work, which means you do not need to call in a separate technician or electrician. Even better, in most cases we can do these repairs for no additional charge other than for parts, and in the long run this will save you money.
To hold a practicing licence our engineers must attend mandatory training in safe working practices including first aid and CPR. In addition such training covers changes and updates to the regulations and standards, so that we can provide you with the current 'best practice' service. Also, to be entitled to hold a practicing licence in New Zealand, the worker must be assessed as a 'fit and proper' person, so you can be assured our team have excellent and trustworthy backgrounds.
- What sort of identification do Meditest's engineers carry?
Meditest's engineers all carry their NZ Practising Licence which you can ask to see at any time. The licence is a credit card size card with photo ID and an expiry date. You should be aware that a certificate of attendance at a training course is not the same as a practicing licence.