NWCEL Northwest Council of Engineering Labs

Become a
Special Inspector

›› Introduction
›› License Types
›› Types of Work


Inspection Courses

Reinforced Concrete:
›› Batch Plant
›› Concrete II
›› Concrete Intensive
›› Pre/Post-Tension
›› Shotcrete Intro.
›› Shotcrete Recert.

Steel & Welding:

›› Steel & Welding I
›› Steel & Welding II
›› Steel & Welding Intensive

Masonry Inspection

Ultrasonic Technician
›› Certification Program

Magnetic Particle Testing Level II

Special Inspector Certification Renewal

Lateral Framing Special Inspection

Proprietary Anchors Inspection

Plan Reading

›› In-Place Density
›› Embankment and Base
›› Aggregate
›› Asphalt II

Information about becoming a Special Inspector

While most think of construction inspectors as being strictly employed by city, county and local governments, there is another segment of the industry that provides supplementary inspection services and works from the private sector. Special Inspections are defined in the building code, and can generally be characterized as being inspections requiring refined knowledge of materials and construction techniques, as well as a commitment for time on the project that individual building departments would otherwise have difficulty meeting. These inspection types usually revolve around concrete, masonry, structural steel and wood framing and constitute most of the inspection of shell and core construction of commercial and industrial projects.

Special Inspector’s Job Description:
The special inspector is a professional person of high moral character, integrity and honesty. Special inspectors, and the testing laboratories that employ them are thought of as consultants in the realm of professional services. They work side-by-side with contractors and design professionals (architects, civil and structural engineers) on all manner of commercial, industrial and public projects. Regardless of what they are inspecting, their duty is to see that the work they inspect is completed not only to permit-approved blueprints, but also to applicable building code. Their competence is measured by their accumulation of licenses that are earned through classroom instruction, nationalized building-code based exams, and personal interviews with building officials.

On a day-to-day basis, the testing lab will designate one or more projects for an inspector to service, based on their experience, capability and requisite licensure. The inspector is expected to navigate to various projects, often under tight deadlines to reach jobsites to witness specific construction activities, to test materials, gather samples and provide accurate and detailed reports to the contractor prior to leaving. Inspectors often work without direct supervision, but are expected to follow standards and guidelines set by the testing lab, and dictated by their accreditation body and applicable building code. Field Supervisors, the Technical Director and Supervising Laboratory Technician ensure these standards are followed and provide day-to-day management and guidance to field personnel.

Key Personality Traits of a Special Inspector:
1. Communications: inspectors must have the ability to read, comprehend and legibly write English, often containing highly technical language, as well as the capability to communicate nonconforming work to contractors in a non-threatening manner.
2. Professionalism: dependability, punctuality and a professional appearance will assist the inspector in gaining the respect of clients, contractors and design professionals
3. Strong attention to detail: inspectors must verify that work is complete to the standard set by building code, plans and specifications, often with very strict tolerances and with limited time; inspectors must also be able to complete field testing the same way, every time without variation, as dictated by prescribed test methods
4. Motivation: inspectors often work without direct supervision, but must be disciplined enough to remain on task and to thoroughly complete tests and inspections. Desire and capability to study, and pursue knowledge within and outside a classroom environment

An integral part of becoming a special inspector is earning licenses. Most employers employ wage scales that are directly tied to the licenses an inspector holds. By the same token, many testing laboratories pay for in-class instruction, books, testing fees and renewals, and have high expectations for their employees: attend every class, participate, succeed and pass the exams. The success of the testing lab is fully contingent upon employing motivated, experienced personnel that hold licenses appropriate to the inspection work to be completed.

PICT0130Testing laboratories in Washington are governed by the Washington Association of Building Officials (WABO), and are required to follow a series of guidelines, not only to secure their own institutional licensing as an approved Special Inspection Agency, but also to license their employees. By 2007, there will be 10 special inspection licenses administered by WABO. Many of these license certifications require passage of a National Exam offered by the International Code Council, the same sanctioning body that authored the building code used in much of the United States. Each ICC Exam is conducted at designated testing facilities, and is comprised of 60 questions on building code related to the individual inspection type, as well as 30 plan reading questions. If one passes this exam, they will receive a certification card from ICC for that inspection type.

The building department jurisdictions that comprise the membership of WABO expect that applicants for any special inspection license be knowledgeable and competent in the type of special inspection they have applied for. One method for ensuring this competence is participation and successful passage of these licensing exams, most are then followed by an interview with a person designated by WABO to gauge the applicant’s experience and grasp of practical knowledge contained in the building code. WABO administers a number of license types that do not correspond to an ICC license, and do not have a nationalized exam, but may have an exam administered by WABO.

Typically, hiring cycles occur in late spring and early summer to compensate for the busy summer season. Training courses and exams are usually scheduled to correspond to this round of hiring. Applicants usually need only wait a month before having the opportunity to take the ACI Field Technician Level I certification test, with NWCEL-sponsored Concrete Placement and Batch Plant courses either underway or set to begin soon after. Those licenses offered by the International Code Council (ICC) may be taken without any corresponding course work, but NWCEL offers courses designed to prepare inspectors to pass ICC exams for Reinforced Concrete, Structural Masonry, and Structural Steel. NWCEL course work is required for Shotcrete and highly encouraged for Lateral Framing. These courses are typically offered at least once per year. WABO typically will wish to see some significant project experience prior to allowing an interview—1000 working hours or 1-year experience is required to sit for the Reinforced Concrete Interview. Once this time is accumulated, a properly motivated inspector may be fully licensed within 2 to 3 years.