Underground Electricity Cable Inspections

03 December 2013

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Energy and Resources, Nicholas Kotsiras. It is in regard to inspections of underground electricity cables on new residential properties, and the action I seek is for the minister to investigate the possibility for inspections to be done by qualified inspectors prior to cable trenches being filled in with dirt and covered.
Under the old State Electricity Commission (SEC) in the 1990s there were compulsory inspections of underground mains in trenches. As every new home was built and had its cables installed they were visually inspected to ensure they were safe. These inspections were thrown out the door under privatisation. Currently there are no mandatory or random visual inspections of cables before trenches are backfilled and the cables covered.
The only mandatory inspections now involve an insulation resistance test and a test on the mains. This essentially boils down to one power point for the builder to work from, and an electrician must submit paperwork subject to an audit, which may or may not happen. This means that we have no way of knowing whether installers are installing the cables correctly - for example, that they are at the correct depth - and that hinders our ability to rule out and narrow down the cause of fault on a property, if one should occur.
Recently a fault at the residence of one of my constituents led to a loss of power and an $8000 bill to get the issue fixed. The house was apparently only four years old. If mandatory or even visual random inspections had been put in place, it could have been discovered that the conduit which housed the cable was broken and the cable insulation cut. Further, such inspections could provide a greater incentive to ensure that cables are installed properly on new properties, lowering the risk of electricity faults or harm to homeowners.
I was informed by a senior electrical inspector that these faults occur on a regular basis. There must be a
better practice for ensuring that installation is correct. Under the SEC, inspections included a visual inspection, an insulation resistance test and then approval to backfill a trench. While mandatory inspections of every single new installation may be financially prohibitive, there appears to be no proper reason why we cannot investigate, at the very least, reintroducing random inspections as a practice. This would then put the tradespersons and builders on notice that they need to comply with regulations, as there would always be the possibility of an inspection.
If random inspections were to lead to fewer electricity faults and greater safety for Victorian families in their new homes, I believe it would be a measure worth considering. That is why I ask that the minister investigate the viability of reinstating compulsory or at least random inspections of underground electricity cables in new homes built in Victoria.