Posted by Tom Swan on Mar 29th 2020


I wanted to do a sidebar on what makes someone a good inspector. Part of it is knowledge but just because you know a lot or are “certified” does not make you a good inspector. There are many inspectors out there with multiple certifications, but that does not make them good inspectors.

Lately I have seen many questions popping up on the various forums related to what qualifications are required to be an inspector. The answer is simple, the Owner and/or Specifier will determine the qualifications of the inspector for a given project. There are many certifying agencies around the world, NACE, SSPC FROSIO, CWI, API and the list goes on. In the US, the most common certifying Agency for coating inspectors are NACE followed by SSPC – soon to be the same.

The highest level of NACE (currently, it has changed over the years) is NACE 3 also referred to as Peer reviewed. To achieve this level you must have a minimum level of inspection hours as well as pass an oral test by 3 peer reviewers. This is considered the pinnacle of being a coating inspector; however, just because you pass the peer review does not make you a good inspector but does give you some credibility to at least have a minimum level of knowledge. (note I said minimum and not maximum.)

I am using NACE as an example but the same comments apply to SSPC and the other certifications. There is no requirement that says that a NACE 3 must be on the project or that a NACE 1 or NACE 2 inspector must report to a NACE 3 inspector. In Fact there may not be any requirement for a NACE or SSPC inspector on the project and there are many excellent inspectors that have neither of these certifications. If the Owner or person responsible for hiring the inspector wants, they could have a NACE 3 working for a NACE 1 or NACE 2 or someone with no certifications.

Another reason this scenario may happen is the qualifications of the person holding the Certification. Some of the people taking NACE or the other certifications may be consultants, Engineers, Technical Representatives for pant manufacturers that may have come into the NACE courses with knowledge that far exceed the course requirements. If this person is acting as an inspector or project manager, even without a certification or a lesser certification, they (since there are now many qualified female inspectors) may be much more qualified and knowledgeable than inspectors with higher levels of certification.

Be a leader, not a God. Be reasonable, not a dictator.

Having spent several years managing and supervising all levels of inspectors, my opinion is NACE 3 is overrated. 20% of NACE 3 Certified inspectors are good to excellent (actually I think the number is closer to 10% but I am being generous), 60% are passable and 20% you wonder how they passed per review. The reason is being a good inspector involves more than knowledge. It is also largely attitude, integrity and attention to detail. The MTest inspector’s handbook stresses the importance of documentation. Most inspectors are very poor at writing reports that detail the quality of the work. A good inspection report involves much more than filling in the blanks. Supporting text on most reports is generally one to two sentences. In the event of a failure or litigation on a project, the text part of the report is critical to determine where the problems are. Often I have found that the text contradicts the numbers on the same report. One of the most common phrases on many reports is “everything is OK” when some of the numbers are clearly out of specification.

When I was doing project management, I used to keep checklists on the different projects. When items were found to be out of spec, I would mark it on the checklist. When the item was corrected, I would check it off. When the project got to the point, past where the correction needed to be made, I would contact the inspector and asked if it was fixed, and the usual response was yes. If it wasn’t documented, as far as the project documents were concerned, the problem was never corrected.

The reason I put so much emphasis on documentation is two or three years after the project ends and there is a problem and the consultants start going through the paperwork, the only way they can determine what happened is with the documentation. The quality of the documentation may determine if the cause of the failure can be determined.

Many inspectors will take notes in a separate notebook and transfer the notes to the inspection reports. Often many of the notes do not get transferred. If a separate notebook is used to take notes, the notebook should be included with the final documentation.

Many inspectors think they are good. They know paint, they know the application, they know how to inspect, but they cannot write a clear and concise report. I would rather have a less experienced inspector that wrote a good inspection report than an experienced inspector that wrote a bad report. The Best inspectors merge their knowledge, experience, integrity and leadership with ability to write clear and concise reports. Drawings can be critical in making an understandable report.

You can be an excellent inspector without haveing any of these certifications but having the certifications can certainly make it easier to find work. Courses like NACE and SSPC can supply you with knowledge. Whether or not you use that knowledge to become one of the top 20% is up to you.

Excellent inspectors keep learning and realize there may be someone on the project that knows more than they do. I have learned a lot from many old-timers because I was willing to listen to them. Not everything they say may be correct, but they may know things that you were not taught in class. Be a leader, not a God. Be reasonable, not a dictator. You are there to make sure the specs are adhered to and should try to facilitate the contractor in completing the job on time. Don’t be an obstructionist.