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What's Hanging on Your Utility Pole and Are You Liable?

POSTED BY: Ashley Little on 03.4.2014

whats_hanging_on_your_utility_poleSafety is paramount in the power industry. And with a utility pole, there are many opportunities for safety risks.. Attachment overloading could weaken the pole’s structural integrity and bring it down. The attachment itself could fall and cause damage on the ground below.

Additionally, there is the issue of illegal utility pole attachments. Equipment attached to a utility pole must be properly permitted and documented, but for an owner of many different poles, each with a number of different attaching companies, the paperwork on one single attachment can be difficult to track. As a result, attachments can -- quite by accident -- end up on poles illegally. If those attachments are discovered, the result could be a significant penalty.

Who pays the penalty? Who is liable for the damage? There are a number of companies hanging attachments to your poles at any given time. As the pole owner, you are responsible for what happens with each of those attachments.

Owner Liability

When it comes to utility poles, the issue of liability is not simple. It depends upon many factors, as well as on what can be argued or proven in court, if it comes to that. However, a utility pole is property, and as the owner, you are responsible for that asset. Even if you do not own the attachments that cause the damage, it is still your job to guard against negligence and prevent things like overloading and unlicensed attachments from “hanging out on your poles.”

Of course, attachers are responsible for their property as well. So in the case of illegal attachments, poor attachment installation, or other negligence, they may share some of the responsibility, and some of the penalties. However, the ultimate responsibility still lies with the pole owner.

Limiting Liability

The first thing utility pole owners can do to limit responsibility for the actions of attachers is to detail liability in the rental agreement. An attacher may agree to take full responsibility for their attachments. This can help in cases in which one specific attachment and its owner are deemed to be the cause of the problem, but it is still the pole owner’s responsibility to guard against problems.

The best way to limit your liability is to stay informed. Use new technology to keep track of all the attachments on your pole – what they are and to whom they belong, so no one pole gets overloaded. Spreadsheets and paper make it extremely difficult to manage all the assets you are responsible for, so a joint use management system can dramatically affect accuracy and efficiency. A best practice is to perform regular inspections that document field equipment, ensuring everything is attached properly and the pole itself is not in danger of falling down or causing damage. Having this data up-to-date and readily accessible allows you to quickly see that attachments are or are not properly licensed, with all necessary permits and make-ready completed.

Of course, when it comes to utility poles and liability issues, accidents will happen, despite everyone’s best efforts. Mitigating your risk by taking preventive measures and staying on top of what your attachers are doing greatly reduces the likelihood of something bad happening, and may reduce your liability if it does.

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