Better Together: The Licensed Engineer and the Certified Inspector, Technician
BY LLOYD A. TILLMAN, SET
Licensed professional engineers are professionally qualified and duly licensed by law to perform engineering services. They must always consider the public safety, health, and welfare in fulfilling their professional duties. Certified quality inspectors and testing technicians are generally not professional engineers, but rather persons in support of and under the direction of an engineer. They use proven knowledge and techniques to inspect materials, record data, perform field testing and laboratory procedures, and prepare formal reports. The PE often utilizes experienced certified inspectors and testing technicians as their eyes and ears to ensure proper implementation of design intentions, and to communicate observations, testing, and documentation relating to approved project plans, specifications, and code department mandates.
(TOP AND BOTTOM IMAGES, RESPECTIVELY) REINFORCED CONCRETE AND AUGER CAST PILE CONSTRUCTION ARE EXAMPLES OF TYPES OF CONSTRUCTION THAT BENEFIT FROM INSPECTION AND/OR TESTING BY CERTIFIED PROFESSIONALS.
The PE and the certified inspector/testing technician have differing roles but share the same goals. For example, upholding proper design parameters and confirming accurate results when conducting construction material testing at a project site or in a materials-testing laboratory; ensuring that contract documents are adhered to throughout the construction process; and preparing designs that can be satisfactorily constructed.
The relationship and interaction between the licensed professional engineer and the certified inspector/technician are critical factors to the success of engineering design; construction management; laboratory services; and testing, inspection, and special inspection services.
The PE is responsible for design work, and can use the certified technician to provide clarification on referenced standards such as ASTM International, American Concrete Institute, and International Building Code. Technicians can provide valuable comments on inspection and testing services as indicated or proposed by project specifications and special inspection requirements that will be the basis for the proposed construction project. Experienced certified technicians are familiar with construction standards and codes. They may also be familiar with local construction materials and techniques. PEs should consider bringing the inspector into the project development and design process, as their input can be quite useful.
The certified technician can be invaluable in assisting the CM team during construction by providing competent inspection and testing services to ensure compliance with project documents. Structural, civil, and pavement inspectors communicate and report in a timely fashion to the PE.
In many cases, the certified technician also provides special inspections (SI) as required by the local code department. Special inspections are a proactive method of enhancing public safety by ensuring that buildings and other critical structures are constructed in accordance with design documents, specifications, and approved shop drawings. The PE can rely on a certified inspector to inspect or test the construction material for which they have direct training and experience.
Particularly with SI, the inspector that inspects the deep foundations may be different than the structural concrete inspector or the structural steel inspector. Code officials across the US are requiring that inspectors be certified to a certain level in the area they are inspecting. In fact, many code officials are now requiring PEs to also be certified (in addition to being licensed) in any areas requiring special inspections if the PE will be making those inspections. It makes sense to use certified inspectors, as their qualifications and experiences are appropriate and up-to-date, and they are less costly to the project owner than the PE, who can be free to concentrate on higher-level engineering issues.
Many engineering companies also provide laboratory testing services. Per ASTM standards, inspection, testing, special inspection, and laboratory services must be under the direction of a professional engineer who is a full-time employee. The PE does not typically perform the testing but assigns it to a laboratory manager. The manager, and the testing technicians, must have experience in the relevant testing being performed and be certified. The manager must provide accurate test results to the PE that can be used in design and for field testing support. It also makes economic sense to use certified technicians in laboratory services; testing would be more expensive if the PE performed it.
Field Testing and Inspection Services
These areas must also be under the direction of a full-time professional engineer according to ASTM standards. The field supervisor, testing technician, and inspectors must have experience in the particular types of field services, and they must be certified. Accurate information about construction techniques and testing results must be relayed to the PE. Specific certification and experience may be required to perform specific construction materials’ inspections. The requirement may be from project specifications for the material, in the quality section of project specifications, or from the local code department.
A Better Qualified Team
These are four areas where the PE and the certified technician can work together to benefit the outcome. The two roles should work together as a team. The better qualified the team, the better the construction effort.
PEs should be aware that there are different degrees of certification. In this article, reference has been made to qualifications encompassing both technical knowledge and experience. The use of NICET-certified technicians, who have proven experience in addition to technical knowledge, can be invaluable. For example, a Level II certification requires a minimum of two years’ experience in the field of certification. A Level III certification requires a minimum of five years’ experience, and a Level IV certification requires a minimum of ten years’ experience. Too many “certified” technicians passed a test, but do not have proven experience records.
PEs should insist on qualified technicians and inspectors, as only then can they be confident of testing and reporting accuracy. Too often, the cost of testing and inspection services is put ahead of qualifications. Competent testing and inspection services are the best insurance policy the PE can possess to ensure a quality outcome.
For example, an SI or quality assurance (QA) inspector may inspect structural concrete construction for reinforcing steel placement and find many errors even after a “satisfactory” quality control (QC) inspection. Experienced and certified concrete inspectors read the structural drawings, including the general notes and referenced standards on the plans, obtain all relevant Requests for Information, and better understand code requirements. A certification body that requires this knowledge and understands the value of experience, such as NICET, ensures a competent inspector.
PEs can advance the use of certified inspectors and technicians by requiring or giving preference to certain types of qualifications for certified inspectors and technicians in Requests for Professional Services and Requests for Quotations. Many federal agencies indicate NICET Level II as a minimum qualification for inspectors and testing technicians, and often indicate a preference for NICET Level III qualifications.
Working in Partnership
A good working relationship between the PE and a certified technician is one of the most important factors in providing quality construction services. A strong partnership can be formed that will most certainly result in a successful project.
Recently, on an airport project, the test section for the concrete paving was monitored by a well-qualified paving inspector. After the construction management team deemed the test section unsatisfactory, the inspector suggested to the project PE that a pre-work meeting be held before attempting the second test section. The PE and the general contractor agreed, and the contractor required his subcontractor to attend. While inspectors do not direct contractors on means and methods, the inspector was able to hand out the project specifications with certain issue-related sections highlighted. After discussing, the inspector then provided the meeting attendees with a best practices manual with the same issues tabbed.
The second test section was deemed satisfactory, and the start of production was even better. The PE and the certified inspector, working together, were able to provide the contractor with the information he needed to successfully construct that portion of the project. The teamwork saved time, and the now-better-educated contractor was able to do quality work and receive full compensation.
The engineer and technician partnership is a relationship worth forming!
Lloyd A. Tillman, SET, is the chair of the NICET Board of Governors and a member of the NSPE Board of Directors. He is the special inspections/QA/QC manager for the Robert B. Balter Company, and is NICET certified in engineering technology; geotechnical engineering technology; and construction materials testing: asphalt, concrete, and soils.