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12 Winning Traits of a Good Electrical Inspector

Posted By Philip Cox, Monday, January 01, 2007
Updated: Sunday, February 10, 2013

A combination of traits and associated technical training and experience should help produce an individual highly qualified in the profession of electrical inspection. When one is truly professional as an electrical inspector in both conduct and performance, he or she not only brings greater respect to the industry but also makes it easier for other members of the electrical community to do their jobs.

What are the guidelines for determining whether a person is a good electrical inspector? Qualifications for becoming an electrical inspector vary greatly. Some jurisdictions may not require an individual to have any electrical training or experience before being hired as an inspector. Others require a minimum of journeyman or master electrician license, formal degrees in electrical engineering, or years of field experience. While there may not be an established list of qualifications one can use to determine if a person is qualified to be an electrical inspector, there are some characteristics which are very important for doing the job.

Commitment

The level of commitment of an inspector becomes evident within a short period. When a person neither believes in the job nor is committed to its objectives, it can usually be recognized. The job of an electrical inspector is too important to be left in the hands of one who is interested only in putting in forty hours a week. The responsibility of helping provide for safe electrical installations for those living within the inspection jurisdiction is too serious to ignore. Fortunately, many dedicated electrical inspectors go beyond the required job responsibilities and give much needed service both to the public and to the industry. The demand upon an electrical inspector’s time is generally not limited to a 40-hour week. Most successful electrical inspectors spend a lot of time after normal work hours teaching classes, giving presentations to groups, answering electrical code questions and doing other things to help improve his or her community.

Thirst for Knowledge

The higher one climbs on the ladder of knowledge, the better one can see. The horizon is broadened and many things can be seen more clearly. It is refreshing to see inspectors who love to talk code at every opportunity, read extensively, attend educational forums and participate in other related electrical inspector activities. The training and skills necessary to be a good electrical inspector do not come quickly or easily. One must work hard to gain an acceptable level of expertise and be very diligent about staying proficient. The thirst for knowledge is a motivating force that drives many individuals to go beyond what is required and to do what is necessary in order to become the best they can be.

Positive Attitude

Approaching the responsibility of enforcing electrical safety rules with a positive attitude is beneficial for all affected parties. This is often reflected by the inspector projecting an image of working to verify compliance with established safety rules rather than having a negative attitude of trying to find something wrong with a job. Listening to an inspector talk with a contractor or engineer provides good insight into the attitude the person has in relation to the job. An important point that needs to be kept in mind is that to see a job done correctly, the electrical inspector should work with installers, designers and manufacturers’ representatives, etc., but for the consumer or general public. While the responsibility for the tone of a discussion often rests on the shoulders of the inspector, the other person must bear responsibility as well. Where the other individual’s opinion is so firmly established that no amount of persuasion can change it and where emotion overrides logic, the inspector’s efforts to explain a rule or its application are not likely to succeed. The ability to maintain a positive level of communication is very difficult in these circumstances. Often the use of an established appeal process is necessary to resolve the issue in these circumstances.

Fairness in Applying the Code

Rules should be interpreted and applied uniformly to all involved. The inspector is a type of law enforcement official and, as such, has the responsibility of enforcing both the letter and intent of the adopted law. Those who make up their own rules, or enforce provisions for which there is no established law, or make decisions in direct conflict with adopted rules should seriously reconsider potential repercussions of those actions. There have been occasions where people have complained of unfair and unequal enforcement when, in fact, the work was not in conformance with the electrical code and the inspector was simply doing a good job. In order to guard against problems in this area, inspectors should work very hard to ensure there is not even a hint of uneven enforcement.

Competency

Designers and installers have a greater level of confidence in the electrical inspector when they know he or she is very capable of inspecting a job, evaluating its compliance with safety code rules, and making sound judgments on field conditions. The decisions inspectors often must make can dramatically impact the affected parties, and the responsibility for making those decisions is a heavy load to bear. For this reason, an inspector must not only have an excellent knowledge of applicable code rules but also must understand the electrical system. Some people discount the importance of requiring inspectors to have a good working knowledge of the fundamental principles of electricity, but that knowledge is necessary for understanding how a system operates and how it will be affected by specific conditions. Understanding installation methods is also important. Unless one has worked in the trade, it is more difficult to comprehend field situations fully and to evaluate them according to written rules. Without field experience, it is more difficult to see the whole picture.

Consistency

Consistency in interpreting and applying electrical code rules is very significant to users of the code. Whenever an installer does electrical work within an inspection jurisdiction, rules should be applied the same to all jobs regardless of which inspector looks at the installation. This is a serious challenge for chief electrical inspectors and supervisors. When an inspection department consists of a large number of inspectors, establishing and maintaining a common level of understanding of code rules and enforcement procedures is difficult. Inconsistencies in situations sometimes occur because of rules in the National Electrical Code that are not precise in nature. An example of this is 230.2(B)(2). This provision permits more than one service to a single building or other structure that is sufficiently large to make two or more services necessary and where special permission is given. For consistency, both the guidelines on how to determine what constitutes a "sufficiently large” building or other structure that justifies the use of 230.2(B)(2) and where the use of "special permission” is necessary should be clearly understood and applied by the authority having jurisdiction. If it is left up to individual inspectors to interpret this rule without any established policy or guidance, undesirable inconsistencies could easily occur. Without basic guidelines to determine what constitutes a large building or other structure covered by 230.2(B)(2), individual inspectors may have widely different opinions on the matter. It should be clear to both inspectors and installers as to how a rule is applied.

Good Judgment

Every inspector has to make judgments in the field because of conditions or situations that do not clearly fall under a code rule. The inspector should consider all aspects of the situation before making any decision on this type of matter. Consideration should be given to how the decision impacts the job being inspected as well as other jobs. In addition, how it will affect all parties involved and how it relates to the purpose of the NEC in "… the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity” is important [90.1(A)]. There is no substitute for an inspector’s good judgment in evaluating electrical installations and applying code rules. Section 90.4 provides needed flexibility for inspectors. This provision assigns the responsibility of interpreting the code, approving materials and equipment, granting special permission and allowing alternate methods to the authority having jurisdiction. Every job does not neatly fit into conditions described by the Code. Neither is it practical to write code that will cover every variation that could possibly occur. When the flexibility covered in 90.4 is used, it should be done with proper regard for the gravity of the responsibility.

Common Sense Approach

There are those who apply electrical code rules strictly by the letter and there are those who enforce both by the letter and by intent. This may appear confusing to some, but inspectors need to understand the reasons behind safety rules and to enforce them in a logical manner. Rules properly interpreted and applied in a logical manner will provide a good level of safety. An example is the application of the term wrenchtight where following rules for bonding. The rule does not specify the type of wrench, the amount of pressure to be applied, or any specific details or conditions. To skilled installers and inspectors, this term is readily understood as to its intent. Qualified inspectors who understand both the letter and intent of the code are familiar with electrical products and installation methods, know the difference between wrenchtight as applied to a run of 3/4-inch conduit from that for a run of 6-inch conduit. If one interpreted wrenchtight to allow the use of any type of wrench, the selected tool may very well be inadequate to do the job. A wrench used to tighten a threaded coupling on a small diameter raceway may not be appropriate to tighten a coupling on a 4-inch conduit, even though the wrench may be adjustable to grip the larger conduit. The purpose and intent of the code are very much a part of the enforcement of electrical safety rules.

Dependability

One characteristic that most inspectors demonstrate is dependability. This involves keeping one’s word and being reliable. In turn, because inspectors traditionally feel strongly in this area, they expect those they associate with to live by the same standards. During visits to some inspection jurisdictions, it became readily evident in many cases that not only contractors but also the inspector’s superiors had a high level of trust in the electrical inspector’s ability and conduct. They apparently were very confident that the inspector would do what was needed, and they could depend upon it being done in an acceptable fashion.

The Ability to Listen

Listening properly can solve many problems and help eliminate misunderstandings. Being able to communicate effectively is a skill vital to a professional electrical inspector. When people enter into conversations with their minds made up, or do not want to hear what is being said, there is little chance of solving problems. The inspector is frequently involved in discussions with manufacturers, designers, installers and property owners. In order to understand specific needs or positions taken by others, one should listen to what is said, have an open mind on the matter, digest that information and evaluate the situation without bias. The term listen cannot be over emphasized. It is a learned skill in most cases and takes a disciplined level of concentration. A significant problem in oral communications is the failure to listen closely to what is said and to hear the entire point being made before making a decision or reaching a conclusion. One has only to listen to discussions between people to learn that some individuals prematurely and incorrectly form an opinion in response to what another person says. It is best to wait until the entire statement or point is made before trying to interpret what is being said.

The Ability to Work With People

One can be the best technically qualified person available and still be a relative failure as an electrical inspector. Whether one realizes it or not, the inspector must be able to communicate effectively with people in order to succeed. In reality, it is one of the most important skills for an inspector. It is difficult to deal with an individual during a hostile confrontation. It takes a lot of patience and understanding to work out this type of situation effectively. One can expect these situations to arise from time to time because of the very nature of law enforcement. Misunderstandings, differences of opinions and many other factors result in conflicts with inspectors. The effectiveness of the inspector can depend a great deal upon his or her ability to solve these problems. Unfortunately, if these confrontations cannot be resolved, the inspector may end up with an adversarial form of enforcement. In some cases, the situation is not realistically within the inspector’s ability to control and that the level of antagonism is established by the other party. Where the inspector does all he or she can to approach a difficult situation in a professional manner and the other party continues to be confrontational, that individual must be held responsible for his or her conduct. Fortunately, where inspectors use the professional approach, the latter situation is less likely to occur.

Responsible Use of Authority

Inspectors must have the proper tools to do their job. A necessary part of that set of tools is the authority to act and enforce rules and regulations adopted by the inspection jurisdiction. The type and extent of authority granted to an electrical inspector is dependant upon a number of factors and may vary from that in other jurisdictions. Some inspectors may have the authority to take actions such as having violators arrested or stopping work at a job site while others may be far more limited in what they can do. It depends upon the enforcement policy adopted by a jurisdiction. Regardless of the type of authority an inspector has, he or she is expected to perform with a high level of integrity. How an inspector applies that power tells a lot about how that person views his or her role and what standard of ethics that is practiced. In many cases it also reveals a lot about those who are responsible for the conduct of inspectors. Most people within the industry have probably heard of an inspector being accused of abusing authority. Unfortunately, those rare few are the ones who get the headlines while the overwhelming majority of honorable ones who uphold the law go unrecognized. In every profession there are those who enjoy using their authority to cause others to do their bidding. Possibly this is an ego boost and it causes them to have an inflated view of themselves that others do not share. There is no room in the inspection profession for this type of person. There is too much at stake. Unethical inspectors hurt the inspection industry but they also affect the general public.


Read more by Philip Cox

Tags:  Featured  January-February 2007 

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