Ask the Expert

The question in this issue looks at the role of an inspector.

What makes a good coating inspector? CM

This is an interesting question and has numerous answers in my opinion. Having worked in industry for some 40 odd years, and been on all sides of the fence including sitting on it, I feel I am able to give the following judgements.
The first and foremost criterion to be met is that an inspector needs to be completely independent and must not have their judgement swayed by allegiances or obligations. Until the advent of the ISO 9001, inspectors were employed by clients to provide objective and impartial viewpoints from an unbiased stand point, providing accurate and valid reports on the performance of a contractor’s work. They were generally put on site to act as a ‘Jiminy Cricket’ to witness, observe, and report back, as to what was going on, this, if done well would ensure that the contractor would be less likely to cut corners and use improper practices.

Up until 1987, BS5750 had been the governing system in the UK for business management but the arrival of ISO 9001 saw this coming to an end and the introduction of self-certification for contractors, this effectively destroyed the impartial third party inspection in the UK with an overnight hammer blow. Inspection in an instant became the domain of the contractor and many unscrupulous contractors immediately saw this as a license to print money as the poacher became both poacher and gamekeeper overnight. This led to the demise of many of the highly reputable inspection companies over the next few years.

It wasn’t until several years later when the clients started to actually look at, and audit, the works being undertaken under the ISO 9001 banner did they start to realise that things were not all that they seemed. From this a drive started to push forwards to try to put in place mitigation to prevent this from happening again.

The other major stumbling block that has often prevailed is the attitude of individuals who see inspection as unnecessary and a cost best avoided, how often do we hear the fateful words ’how difficult is it to paint a bit of steel? My wife manages to paint the house so it can’t be difficult at all!’ WRONG! Our business is highly technical and calling it painting is a huge mistake, paint is cosmetic and decorative! What we are involved in is the application of high-performance protective coatings and so we need people with a high level of technical knowledge to administer, as well as a well-trained and understanding workforce.

A properly constructed specification and contract is now seen as the best way forward to ensure contractor inspection is fit for purpose and that the personnel are properly trained and certified via a recognised body as competent.

From this we need to look at what the inspector’s role should be today, and what makes a good inspector. Inspection needs to be stand alone, you cannot blast or coat a piece of steel then inspect it and certify it yourself, as unfortunately still so often happens.

Many coating inspectors have worked their way up through the ranks and prove to be highly suitable and capable to undertake the coal face inspections. With the aid of quality training and access to all the right equipment, these people provide a solid and reliable backbone to the industry. What they do need is a proper and competent system of support, both from more highly qualified and experienced inspectors controlling and monitoring them, and with a management team that appreciates the true ramifications and the importance of inspection.

A good basic inspector should therefore be someone who is truly enthusiastic about his role and understands that he must at all times be an observer and not try to run the job, his role is the duty to collect and collate information, and report back to line management with his findings, and not get involved in front line confrontation. That does not mean to say that he cannot be authorised to discuss what he finds with the foreman or other management on the project but telling a worker what to do by bypassing the chain of command generally
ends up badly.
A basic inspector is not a basic person, he needs to have a large amount of experience and understanding of how the jobs are undertaken and the limitations of what is trying to be achieved. A good technical grounding is essential as well as the ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and correctly. One of the absolute essentials is training by a recognised training body with certification stating that the inspector has been trained and assessed to a given level and what they are competent to undertake and what level of supervision they require. For example the ICorr Coating Inspector training courses delivered by IMechE Argyll Ruane.

The knowledge required as an inspector moves further up the hierarchy, and becomes more varied and more technical. Ideally when the levels of dealing with contracts, documentation, auditing and failure analysis are reached, very comprehensive inspection training is needed as well as other technical qualifications such as degrees in chemistry, organic chemistry, metallurgy and materials, or process engineering. This gives the necessary level of understanding and authority to state the case when decisions need to be made and if necessary enforced.
An inspector’s life is not a simple one, and having an open mind, unbiased view point, an inquisitive nature, a strong, unwavering sense of right and wrong, a good sound training background along with something resembling a sense of humour and the hide of a rhinoceros, all go a long way to making a good inspector.

Simon Hope
Auquharney Associated Ltd.

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