Purpose and scope
This publication provides information on how responsible businesses need to meet their obligations to operate and maintain their electricity networks to minimise bushfire risk. This publication also outlines ESV’s oversight and regulatory activities specific to identified controls using bow-tie methodology. It supports responsible parties to better understand bushfire risk, and may also be of interest to members of the public.
This document provides an overview of obligations under the energy safety legislation, however it is not a complete statement of the legislative requirements or what is required to meet those requirements. This document does not affect the operation of the Electricity Safety Act or the Regulations made under that Act. Persons with obligations under the legislation should consider their own specific circumstances.
Victoria has a history of electricity assets causing bushfires and is identified as one of the world’s areas most prone to bushfire. In 1969 and 1977 the failure of electricity assets—including the clashing of conductors, conductors contacting trees, and inefficient fuses—caused major bushfires. This history was repeated on 7 February 2009, when five of the 11 major fires that began that day were caused by failed electricity assets; among the fires was that at Kilmore East, which resulted in the death of 119 people. Part of our purpose is to promote the prevention and mitigation of powerline bushfire danger to ensure the likelihood and consequences of such events are minimised.
It is appropriate that our discussion of harms begins with bushfires, given that among all the areas that we regulate, bushfires pose grave risk to the public — multiple fatalities and injuries, loss of property and livestock, economic impacts and costs of recovery.
It is important we are transparent with our stakeholders and the community about how we ensure the responsible businesses meet their obligations to operate and maintain their electricity networks to minimise as far as practicable the bushfire risk. We have developed a bowtie diagram (see below) to help communicate the threats from electricity networks that could result in a bushfire, and the controls to manage these.
As the safety regulator, our role is not to manage the risks that may occur when operating electricity networks. ESV’s objectives and functions with respect to electricity networks is outlined in sections 6 and 7 of the ESA. The functions of ESV include encouraging and monitoring the use of ESMSs and regulating, monitoring and enforcing the prevention and mitigation of bushfires.
It is therefore important to note that our bow-ties show industry risk controls; the corresponding ESV regulatory assurance activities are listed separately (table 1).
ESV applies a safety assurance focus and regulates, monitors and enforces industry safety and compliance with regard to risks that arise from industry activities. We accept /approve ESMSs, BMPs and ELCMPs (plans) which describe how the responsible party will manage bushfire risk. ESV monitors compliance against submitted plans through audit and inspection activities. Bow-ties help ESV understand the controls industry has in place in managing bushfire risk, in order to target audit and inspection activities. In the case of an ESMS, ESV may require that a bow-tie developed by the responsible party be provided as part of its formal safety assessment prepared for the ESMS.
Using a bow-tie diagram
Bow-ties are a valuable risk analysis tool and visual representation of key risk information, such as critical controls. The reasons we use bowtie diagrams are that:
- They provide a consistent and structured way to assess the risks being managed by industry.
- They provide a summary of risks associated with the hazard (electricity network) that is easy to understand.
- Their branching structure allows us to quickly see the different threats (causes) and consequences and whether the set of controls is acceptable.
- They allow us to monitor the health of controls and target areas where controls are starting to fail.
When we work with bow-ties, we consider the following (see diagram 1):
- The hazard (i.e. electrical distribution lines)
- loss of control event (i.e. ground-fire).
- the threats that cause loss of control of the hazard (i.e. tree branch falling onto powerline),
- consequences of losing control.
- controls for each threat that would prevent the threat from happening (i.e. cutting back vegetation),
- mitigating actions that will prevent or reduce the consequences from occurring if the loss of control event occurs.
Understanding bushfire risk
In understanding bushfire risk, we consider a high level view of the range of environmental, human, design and operational threats that could start a ground-fire (leading to bushfire) and identify the main threats that are most likely to cause a bushfire if not managed by the responsible businesses.
Click here to see our ground-fire risk bowtie:
ESV regulatory action
We audit and inspect to ensure that the risk controls are being implemented effectively and that the responsible businesses comply with their documented systems and plans. When they do not meet their obligations, we will investigate further to ascertain the cause of any non-compliances. We will then consider taking proportionate enforcement action, consistent with our compliance and enforcement policy:
Please see below table 1 for a summary of ESV’s regulatory assurance activities associated with ground-fire risk.
Table 1: ESV regulatory & assurance activities
Date: 28/09/2023 14:10
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Reviewed 09 June 2023