Power pole audit reveals problems in WA

Monday, 15 June, 2009

An EnergySafety audit, conducted in Western Australia in 2008, revealed some serious deficiencies in Western Power's management of its 620,000 wooden power poles.

Commenting on the recently released report, the Director of Energy Safety, Ken Bowron, said EnergySafety had launched an earlier audit in 2006 because of concerns about the unacceptably high number of unassisted pole failures in Western Power’s electricity distribution network: “The 2008 audit was conducted to assess corrective actions taken by Western Power during the ensuing two years. Some improvements had been made.

“Unassisted pole failures had dropped from 350 in 1999–2000 to 134 in 2007–2008, but this latest number remained far too high and compared poorly with Australian best practice.

“Encouraging improvements had been made in pole structural design standards and extending service life by installing steel reinforcing stakes, but the audit identified a need for further improvement in these areas.”

The 2008 audit revealed gaps in design, procurement and pole replacement management. It also demonstrated that the accuracy and relevance of Western Power’s pole data were not sufficient to support proper management of the wood pole network.

“In particular, I was not satisfied with Western Power's progress in addressing three critical safety issues we identified in our 2006 audit,” Bowron continued. “There were serious deficiencies in pole inspection practices and the ability to compare pole strength with actual loads.

“Secondly, many installed poles were far too old and no longer had the necessary strength, particularly in rural areas. Old, high-risk, unsupported jarrah poles in rural areas need to be identified and replaced urgently. And thirdly, Western Power should be replacing some 15,000 poles a year.

“It was not clear how many replacements were actually occurring at the time of the audit because reliable data was not available, but the figure has been as low as 2000 to 3000 per year.”

Bowron said EnergySafety would take immediate enforcement action requiring Western Power to remedy the three critical safety issues, which would include regular reviews of actual progress made with each issue.

The audit report can be downloaded at www.energysafety.wa.gov.au.

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