How are power lines and utility poles inspected?

An overview of the different types of inspections that any electrocution accident attorney must know

Power line inspection, image

Most people have no idea how dangerous and decrepit many conditions are that give rise to electrocution deaths.  For example, many are surprised to hear that the average age of a wooden line pole is 40 years old today, and some utility poles are even up to 100 years old.

This means utilities and power companies must be meticulous in the timing and thoroughness of their pole and power line safety inspections.

Failure to do so will cause maintenance workers and the public at large electrocution and shock injury if there’s not a safety inspection program in place to guard against deterioration of conditions and power line infrastructure.

Attorneys who represent people when this happens must understand the inspection schedules and types of inspections required by law, as well as the legal duty of companies to keep workers and the public safe.

Infrastructure deterioration is a crisis issue today. And it’s also up to attorneys who are litigating these electrocution and shock cases to hold utility companies accountable when they choose to invest in growing exurbs instead of older cities, ignore infrastructure, ignore the law, ignore inspections, and negligently allow people to be hurt or killed by power lines.

It is, quite simply, up to us when utility and power companies won’t do these things on their own.

Today I’d like to review the different types of inspections utility companies can use.

Facilities inspections

Facilities inspections concentrate on the lines and pole top devices, hardware, and attachments that are supported on the structures (poles). Inspectors look for broken, deteriorated, or failing equipment, lines, braces, insulators, pins, transformers, insulator ties, crossarms, etc. Facilities inspections are often performed at two levels – drive-by inspections, and detailed inspection.

Drive-by inspections

Drive-by inspections concentrate on major problems, such as loose guy wires and supports, damaged poles or guys, missing insulators, missing ground wires, new structures that have been built too close to the lines, floating phases, etc.

Such inspections are made from vehicles, though in remote areas, walking the line may be required.

Detailed inspections

Detailed inspections include visual inspection of the entire installation from the ground at the base of each pole, using binoculars to check for pole splits at the top, and damage to or deterioration of pole top supports and hardware.

They may include a climbing inspection, the use of insulated work buckets elevated by booms connected to trucks, or helicopter inspections using infra-red or corona cameras to detect “hot spots” from current leakage, or radio interference testing.

Structure or pole inspections

Structure or pole inspections look for damage to wooden poles and other structures. Wood poles lose strength over time, due to many factors, such as age and deterioration mentioned above. The National Electric Safety Code (NESC) recognizes this, and requires a safety factor for greater overload capacity at the time of original installation, than at replacement.

In a structure or pole inspection, inspectors periodically “sound” the wood within a couple yards of the ground with a hammer, looking for rot, excavating the ground line area looking for signs of fungal and/or insect-related damage. They take bore samples from the pole center, and use technologies such as x-rays, ultrasonic devices, or indentation-mechanical/electric resistance tests for pole inspection techniques.

Again, there are several case laws that outline the responsibilities of utility companies to inspect their poles and power lines. Here’s more information and a video on the timing of inspections.

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