SaskPower not properly inspecting, maintaining infrastructure, auditor says

Submitted photo from SaskPower twitter account.

Utility doing well with wooden poles while other equipment falls to wayside, report shows

SaskPower is doing a good job inspecting and maintaining its existing wood power poles but doesn’t have sufficient processes for managing maintenance for its other above-ground distribution assets.

That was the finding of an audit done by provincial auditor Judy Ferguson included in the second volume of her 2018 report, released Tuesday. Ferguson also couldn’t determine whether maintenance issues had any impact on the frequency of unplanned power outages.

While wooden power poles were inspected and maintained to industry standards, Ferguson found that condition-rating and maintenance wasn’t completed to standard on its voltage regulators, reclosers and overhead switches.

On wood poles, they do a good job on planning preventative maintenance,” Ferguson said during a press conference Tuesday morning in Regina.

“They take a risk-based, systematic approach to do that. They take a longer-term horizon, a 10-11 year cycle. It’s those other ones we’re saying they need to do a better job. Right now, they’re relying a lot of the expertise of their staff on when to do preventative maintenance and when to do corrective maintenance. What we’re saying is (they) need to do a more formalized, risk-based approach similar to what (they’ve) done for the wood pole approach.”

SaskPower does track the factors that lead to unplanned outages, Ferguson said, and they are working towards implementing a more formal system to rate and maintain all of its above-ground infrastructure. That corporate-wide asset management strategy is expected to be completed by the end of this fiscal year. The other issue the agency is facing is an issue with its asset management software. Data stored in different places about the number and quality of various assets is inconsistent, which makes it harder to determine what to inspect and when to conduct maintenance. The new strategy should help and should assist in determining whether ageing infrastructure is to blame for power outages.

“(SaskPower) may be able to use its experience maintaining wood poles to help improve its processes for maintaining its other above-ground distribution assets,” Ferguson wrote in her report.

Regina and Saskatoon labs taking longer than recommended to complete biopsies

Ferguson also took a look at how labs in Saskatoon and Regina analyze surgical biopsy. Biopsies help health care providers diagnose problems that patients face, including whether they have cancer. As of September 2018, the Regina and Saskatoon labs had a backlog of about 1,300 biopsies awaiting analysis.

The audit found the labs took longer than good practice to analyze biopsies and the Saskatchewan Health Authority has not determined why. During 2017/18, Saskatoon took an average of 12.1 days to provide a report, while Regina took 18.7 days. Accepted practice is routine biopsies should take five business days, and more complex tests should take from six to 15 days.

Neither lab tracked specimens through the entire process. The Saskatoon lab hoped to address that concern through a new IT system it hopes to have in place by this month. The Regina lab did not have similar plans. “A formal assessment of the surgical biopsy process and IT tracking system could help the Saskatchewan Health Authority to identify factors affecting delays in patient diagnosis,” said Ferguson.

A lack of a written agreement with the coroner’s office and a lack of consistent processes and practices also contributed to confusion when prioritizing specimens and managing workloads.

“The Authority needs to take a consistent province-wide approach to analyze, diagnosing, and prioritizing surgical biopsies,” Ferguson said.

“When patients have to wait longer than needed for a diagnosis, it can cause additional stress, and may result in reduced quality of life and/or chance of survival.”

While the audit specifically looked at Regina and Saskatoon, Ferguson said the broad findings could apply to any of the province’s labs, including those in smaller centres such as Prince Albert.