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Patients On Life Support Left Unexpectedly Without Power

Four people on life support were unexpectedly left with no power during planned outages, the energy regulator has revealed.

The alleged breaches occurred in May and June 2018 in Queensland, and in January and February in the ACT.

In one case, a customer had power restored within one minute, but in another, a person was left without power for four hours.

None of the four customers suffered ill-health, but the potentially deadly situation is one the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is cracking down on.

Electricity distribution businesses Energex and Evoenergy have been fined $40,000 each for the alleged breaches -- $20,000 per breach.

Energex has paid $40,000 in fines for the alleged breaches.

“Protection of life support customers is a high priority as the consequences of an unexpected loss of supply for customers who rely on life support equipment can be dangerous or even fatal,” AER chair Paula Conboy said in a statement.

“We take alleged breaches of the life support provisions very seriously and investigate them thoroughly.”

Australian residents on life support -- which is classified as being dependent on equipment from oxygen concentrators to kidney dialysis machines -- must receive written notice of a planned interruption four business days prior to any work.

This allows them or their carer to make alternative arrangements during the outage time.

Human error resulted in one of Energex's customers not being informed, a spokesperson confirmed.

And two separate errors with Evoenergey's real-time notification system left customers in the ACT without power for one and four hours without warning.

"Evoenergy contacted both of the affected life-support customers to apologise as soon as it became aware of the error," a spokesperson told 10 daily.

"These customers confirmed that the outage did not pose a safety concern and that they were not negatively impacted."

The $80,000 penalty notices are the latest in a number of fines issued by the regulator, which while not mandatory, do prevent the AER from commencing legal proceedings.

Energex has been issued with four infringement notices, one in 2016/17, three in 2017/18, and three so far in 2018/19.

Ausgrid, which services parts of NSW including the Sydney region, was hit with eight infringement notices in 2016/17, but only one the following year and none so far the year after.

TasNetworks in Tasmania was served with three in 2017/18, and four so far in 2018/19.

From February 2019, new rules will compel both energy retailers and distributors to provide greater protections to life support customers.

The aim is to improve the accuracy of life support registers, as well as clearly and appropriately assign responsibilities between retailers and distributors.

“The new rules commencing are designed to strengthen these protections and we will be writing to industry about our expectations including having effective processes and suitably trained staff in place," Conboy said.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au