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ESV report highlights future safety risks in new AusNet pole management practices

Energy Safe Victoria is calling for feedback on its review of changes to AusNet Services’ wood pole management practices, which may increase the risk to community safety long term.

The comprehensive review found that while AusNet Services had recorded historically low levels of wood pole failure, recent changes to its approach may pose a heightened threat to the community moving forward.

ESV has consequently made recommendations to the energy company, which will improve systems and practices of its wood pole management regime to ensure community safety.

The AusNet Services Wood Pole Management report is part of ESV’s systematic investigations into all electricity distribution businesses, to ensure practices deliver sustainable safety outcomes for all Victorians.

The report examined the end-to-end asset management of wooden power poles, including inspection, maintenance and replacement.

Ultimately, it found that recent changes to inspection cycles and implementation of non-destructive inspection techniques could lead to a reduction in pole interventions with older poles, potentially more susceptible to failure.

Further, to sustain the safety outcomes that it is currently achieving, AusNet Services must implement a series of recommendations that are summarised below:

AusNet Services:

  • is to develop a wood pole management improvement plan to address all recommendations and findings in the investigation report and submit it to ESV no later than 26 November 2021. The plan is to include clear and measurable milestones for all identified actions that can be monitored through regulator reporting.
  • is to establish a reporting protocol agreeable to ESV by 25 February 2022, for ESV to monitor AusNet Services’ progress against its wood pole management improvement plan. AusNet Services will report progress to ESV quarterly until all planned actions to implement the recommendations have been delivered.
  • is to update its wood pole management strategy and submit it to ESV to clearly demonstrate the alignment between objectives, strategies, performance measures, delivery, forecast intervention volumes, failure analysis and improvement initiatives. It is to also address all ESV’s findings regarding the shortcomings of its Asset Management Strategy document.
  • is to demonstrate to ESV by 27 May 2022 how its current asset inspection approach to pole management, and frequency of pole inspection in hazardous bushfire risk areas (HBRA) meets the general duties under section 98 of the Electricity Safety Act 1998 (the Act), including the application of AusNet Services’ Electricity Safety Management Scheme (ESMS). In responding to this recommendation, AusNet Services should demonstrate how it meets the same duties for all other pole top asset classes impacted by its revised approach. It is to refer to the Energy Infrastructure Safety Management Policy and the guidance document Electricity Safety Case (ESMS) Preparation and Submission Guideline for MECs prepared by ESV to assist with understanding the requirements for an ESMS to specify an approach that meets AFAP.
  • is to update its failure investigation process to ensure the requirements and responsible parties undertaking various aspects of the investigation are clear, and the investigation findings and actions are adequately monitored and reported to management. The updated process is to be demonstrated to ESV to ensure it will provide for proper and accurate reporting of electrical incidents.
  • is to submit its current asset inspection training course content to ESV for acceptance in accordance with the requirements of the Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Regulations 2013.
  • is to update its asset inspection documentation to be consistent and compliant with its ESMS and Bushfire Mitigation Plan (BMP) (and to otherwise address ESV’s findings regarding the shortcomings of its current asset inspection documentation).
  • is to demonstrate that an effective change management approach is in place and applied to changes or improvements made to its asset management or inspection practices. It is to specifically describe each of the steps undertaken by AusNet Services within that change management approach.
  • is to update its BMP to clearly demonstrate the alignment between the inspection cycle, training and maintenance timeframes nominated for all condition states of wood poles (and to otherwise address ESV’s findings regarding the shortcomings of its current BMP). The revised BMP is then to be submitted to ESV for acceptance.

ESV, through consultation with all Victorian MECs, is to develop and implement a framework for assessment of minimum training requirements and guidance for maintaining competence for persons assigned to carry out inspections, with clear requirements to which the MECs must adhere.

Have your say

The community, industry and stakeholders are invited to review the report and provide comments or opinions. Information about the public consultation process and the draft report are available here.

Submissions close on 1 September 2021 and must be emailed to consultation@energysafe.vic.gov.au.

For more information visit our Electrical incident and technical investigation reports page.