For economical as well as practical reasons, a single utility pole is used to carry multiple lines in order to deliver electricity, telecommunications services, cable/broadband and other utility services to the community at large. These power lines come with heavy equipment that must be attached to the poles. Utility poles, more specifically joint use utility poles, can only hold so much weight. That is why the National Electrical Safety Code, which outlines rules and regulations for utility poles’ construction, operation and maintenance, includes rules for the maximum load that can legally be allowed on a pole. The maximum load varies based on the material of the pole, its grade of construction as well as environmental factors such as ice and wind. Poles that exceed this maximum load are considered “overloaded,” which can result in injury to the general public or utility workers due to falling poles or fines for violating NESC regulations.
Regardless of the reasons why a utility pole becomes overloaded, it is typically the pole owner who is held responsible for any consequences. Avoiding overloading in the first place is the best solution. Below are three methods to help.
Collect Accurate Field Asset Data
Capturing accurate utility pole data (height, material, current attachments, etc.) allows pole owners to determine the maximum load allowed based on NESC regulations and if they are currently at capacity or have room for additional attachments. When a company requests permission to attach to a given pole, the owner knows immediately whether they can legally permit that attachment or not. Having this information at your fingertips saves valuable time and resources, especially when many states have laws regarding the amount of time a company has to respond to and either permit or deny attachment requests.
Maintain Accurate Field Asset Data
Not only is it important to collect good data, but companies must also update their data consistently going forward. A transformer may be upgraded, a customer may switch to a different transformer temporarily during storm repair, or a pole may even be replaced with one with a new grade of construction; all such information should be recorded in order to ensure your asset records are up-to-date to avoid overloading. When necessary, a pole audit should be performed to verify the information on record.
Verify Utility Pole Attachments
A common cause of overloading is unauthorized attachments or “bootlegs.” Companies sometimes attach their equipment to existing utility poles without first applying for the proper permits to do so, or something goes awry in the process of obtaining permission for their attachments due to lack of good communication between the pole owner and the new attacher. Either way, regular utility pole inspections should be used to verify the types of equipment attached to a pole, see whom the equipment belongs to, and check that information against records of the attachments that are supposed to be there.