Electricity infrastructure workers say they are terrified that decrepit wooden power poles will fall down when they climb them after a string of such incidents.
A secret Electrical Trades Union (ETU) report obtained by The Standard has revealed five accidents when poles collapsed as workers tried to scale them to conduct maintenance or repairs.
The incidents happened in a three-year period before the report was released in May 2016 and since then linesmen say Powercor's ageing network of 640,000 poles has just got older and more dangerous.
Most of the pole network is at least 70 years old, with the majority constructed soon after World War II.
In 2017, a fraction of 1 per cent or 1153 poles in the system were replaced.
A linesman this week claimed the pole maintenance and replacement program was a disgrace.
"We are replacing poles that should have been replaced five years ago. I've climbed a pole and had it fall back on me," he said.
Workers claim Powercor is gouging profits from the maintenance budget with underspends of 22 per cent and 10 per cent in the past two years.
In 2015-16, that underspend was $77 million on Powercor’s own estimated maintenance budget.
In addition, ETU members have revealed that maintenance is being reclassified, immediate jobs are being bumped back to four months and work needing to be done in that timeframe put off for years.
In constantly changing Powercor rankings, immediate priority No.1 jobs (24 hours) are now being done in weeks or being bumped back to P2 (15 weeks) and work needing to be done in that time frame is going back to P3 and being put off for years - often being bumped back into the following year's budget.
The same defects are reported every inspection, done usually every two-and-half years in bushfire prone areas.
Workers claim plummeting standards are also to blame.
Previously pole strength and density was measured to a standard of 70 millimetres of good wood for poles to be classed as viable.
That figure dropped to 50mm and is now down to 30mm before poles will be marked with a cross.
And they are still often just staked and the linesmen consider them unsafe.
When questioned, Powercor says it is meeting all industry standards, but it’s seen as setting its own base requirements by the maintenance crews and then putting off that work.
The widely-criticised government regular, Energy Safe Victoria, claims there has been "consistent" standards in relation to wooden power pole density and strength.
"Requirements around pole strength have been consistent for many decades (based on SECV standards). They are regularly reviewed by ESV," a spokesman said.
"Distribution businesses can subject ‘unserviceable’ poles to further more in-depth and detailed testing, which depending on the results, can extend the time before their replacement. The only other way the pole classification can change is by staking, which is only possible for pole of a particular condition," he said.
But, on March 17 last year an old rotten termite-infested pole on dairy farmer Jack Kenna’s farm at The Sisters fell over.
It sparked The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire which destroyed 18 homes and burnt out farms.
The pole had been checked by Powercor maintenance workers in November 2017, just four months before the St Patrick’s Day bushfires and was not due to be looked at again until 2020.
The ETU is seeking for all Australian linespersons, who maintain the poles and wires, to be licensed in the same manner as A grade electricians.
Currently, they are not licensed in Victoria.
The union argues linesmen have as much, if not more, of a duty of care for public safety than any other licensed occupation.
They want their duty to put public safety ahead of profits of privatised network businesses, enshrined in law.
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