The Importance of a Well-Defined Special Inspections Program, Part 1
Key Entities for Program Success
08 January 2021
Special inspections in the construction industry are defined by the International Building Code (IBC) as "inspection of materials, installation, fabrication, erection or placement of components and connections requiring special expertise to ensure compliance with approved construction documents and referenced standards." In other terms, they are code-required inspections of the building's construction process (materials and workmanship) to ensure compliance with the construction plans and specifications. They are performed by a special inspector who must be in direct employment by the owner, or the registered design professional acting as the owner's agent. They may not be hired by the contractor, unless in an instance where the contractor may also be the owner.
There are five key entities on a project that are responsible for the overall success of a properly implemented and performed special inspection program at the project level: the owner, registered design professional in responsible charge (RDPiRC), building official, contractor and the special inspector.
Setting Expectations Early
The success of the program begins and ends with the building official; commonly referred to as the Authority Having Jurisdiction, or AHJ. The AHJ is the designated authority, usually from a city or county municipality, that oversees and enforces special inspections within their jurisdiction. They are the most commanding and authoritative role, and the only entity that can exercise legal authority to enforce, stop work, and give approvals such as issuing building permits at project start or certificates of occupancy at project completion. The level of special inspections required within their jurisdiction depends on their level of understanding and enforcement of special inspections.
AHJs are tasked with preparing a published policy statement. At a minimum this should define: the requirements of the program, the exceptions (or additions) to their adaptation of the model (IBC) code, the roles and responsibilities of each party, reporting necessities of the Statement of special inspections, interim reports and final report requirements, including who will be responsible for signing and sealing these documents.
The success of the program hinges on setting the appropriate expectations early, so that all parties will be prepared initially and throughout project construction. Proceeding without a defined program, or expectations left unknown, is a recipe for disaster. Parties will not be aware of the requirements. Appropriate inspections may not be performed at the required frequencies (periodic vs. continuous) or not at all for critical work elements. Prepared budgets may exponentially increase to cover unknown inspections and the final sign-off may be left in the perils of professionals unwilling to sign documents required for issuance of the project's certificate of occupancy (CO). A project without a CO may leave an Owner to seek retribution of losses due to delayed openings, additional forensic methods of inspection or in a worst-case scenario, partial or complete building demolition due to unknowns or non-compliances not identified soon enough.
This is the first in a two-part series on special inspections. In our next post we will discuss how to understand a published special inspection program by all parties, not just the AHJ.