Preparing for Inspection Before You Mobilize

Let’s Talk About Preparing for Inspection Before You Mobilize

KTA’s Certified Coating Inspector Forum Volume 3, Issue No. 6 – June 2024

William Corbett, COO

AMPP Senior Certified Coating Inspector & Certified Protective Coating Specialist

KTA’s Certified Coating Inspector Forum is designed to provide professional development/continuing education on standards, inspection practices, new instruments, and other topics to help keep certified AMPP and FROSIO coating inspectors current. It represents the views of the author and KTA-Tator, Inc. It may or may not represent the views of AMPP: The Association for Materials Protection & Performance, even though SSPC, NACE, and AMPP standards are frequently referenced in the content.

Introduction

A White Paper and presentation delivered at the SSPC 2021 National Conference (subsequently published in JPCL[1]) described what a good coating inspector needs to know. The list of responsibilities in that White Paper is extensive and includes eight phases of a project. Phase 1, “Pre-project” includes nine responsibilities; that is, as a certified coating inspector there are nine items to consider before mobilizing to a project site. This article describes those items in detail and the potential ramifications of arriving on a project site unprepared. Consider each of these before you begin your next assignment.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 1:
Read & Comprehend the Project Specification; Obtain Clarification

The coating specification is considered the rulebook for a project. But unlike most rulebooks, this one frequently changes from project to project as there is no universally adopted coating specification. Further, many specifications contain requirements beyond surface preparation and coating application and can be quite voluminous. Let’s face it – reading a specification isn’t the same as reading a good novel! These are technical documents with lots of contractual language. And specification writing is both an art and science. Communicating complex, technical material in a language and format that is easy to follow is not a universal skill, and the quality of any given specification can vary. But without reading and comprehending the project specification you do not know what to inspect, how to inspect it (when there are multiple methods), and what the acceptance criteria are. Reading the project specification for the first time while on the project is a recipe for disaster, and a really easy way to miss key inspection checkpoints/hold points, or inspecting items that shouldn’t be, resulting in potential over-inspection claims.

Find a quiet space, bring a couple of highlighters and a note pad (and plenty of caffeine!), and read the specification. Highlight inspection checkpoints (that will come in handy when you develop your Inspection Test Plan) and note items that you simply don’t understand or don’t make sense to you. Reach out to the appropriate party and gain clarification on those items before production begins.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 2:
Gather, Read, and Comprehend Referenced Standards

Many coating specifications contain a section called “Referenced Standards,” which is essentially a list of industry standards that are referenced somewhere in the body of the specification. These are often grouped by the organization that owns/publishes them and may include standards from AWWA, SSPC/NACE, AMPP, ASTM, ISO, and regulations from OSHA, EPA, and others. Most written standards referenced in coating specifications hold a copyright and cannot be appended, so you will need to obtain copies. Regulations from OSHA and EPA are government publications and as such are not subject to copyright; however, they are rarely included with the specification. Review the “Referenced Standards” section of the project specification and verify you have the current version (or the version referenced) of each standard listed. Note that standards themselves frequently have a “Referenced Standards” section, which means you should obtain copies of those as well. Also note that industry standards are frequently reviewed and revised/updated (as required) every five years or so. Make certain you are using the version referenced in the specification, which is typically the version in effect when the specification was issued. However, some specifications may specifically reference a year (e.g., ASTM D4541-04 [2004 version]).

Once the referenced standards are obtained, read through each to ensure your inspection practices/processes conform. If there is information that you do not understand, obtain clarification from the organization that published the standard. It could take some time to get a response.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 3:
Gather, Read, and Comprehend the Coating Manufacturer’s
Product Data Sheets (PDS); Note Conflicts between the PDS and Specification

The January 2023 edition of KTA’s Certified Coating Inspector Forum focused on how an inspector can best utilize product data sheets (PDS).[2] In this column we stated that PDS are essentially an “instruction manual” for the coating, provide technical information, and are often supplemental to a coating specification. Many project specifications reference products by generic type alone (e.g., organic zinc-rich primer, polyamide epoxy mid-coat, polyurethane finish), without including specific brand names or an Approved Products List (APL)/Qualified Products List (QPL). When the specific brands that will be applied are unknown, it is not possible to include product-specific requirements in the specification. So, once the brands selected for application are known, you must research and understand their specific requirements.

Fortunately, accessing current PDS isn’t as difficult as accessing industry standards, as coating manufacturers make them accessible on their website. Like the project specification and referenced standards, obtain and navigate the PDS for each coating material to be used, highlighting key items related to mixing, thinning, application, and cure. Keep these with your project specification and referenced standards.

There may be conflicting information between the specification and PDS. While the specification is part of a contract and must be followed, the PDS is also incorporated as part of the contract when the specification includes phrases such as, “Apply the coating according to the manufacturer’s written instructions.” Even if such phrases aren’t used, it is important to gain clarification when there are discrepancies between the specification and the PDS (e.g., the specification requires a different dry film thickness or sets a maximum of 85% relative humidity while the PDS allows up to 90%). By carefully reading the specification and the PDS for each coating to be used, these discrepancies can be identified, brought to the attention of the appropriate parties, and addressed/resolved prior to production.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 4:
Gather, Read, and Comprehend the Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
for each Hazardous Material on the Job and Know the PPE Required

Like PDS, Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are published by the manufacturer and are available on their website. However, SDS are component-specific (i.e., a two-part epoxy will have one PDS but will have two SDS – one for Part A and one for Part B). There will also be an SDS for each thinner, the abrasive (if abrasive blast cleaning is specified), cleaners, caulking, and other products. By law (OSHA Hazard Communication regulation and the World Health Organization [WHO]), SDS are required to be supplied with the product, be present on-site, and be read and understood by all individuals that may come into contact with the material or its dust/vapors. SDS contain requirements for engineering controls (e.g., ventilation), work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to control exposures. While every section of an SDS is important, the sections on PPE, signs and symptoms of overexposure, and first aid measures for overexposures are particularly useful. While inspectors do not have the same level of risk as applicators, there is always the potential for exposure, so reading and comprehending the SDS for each hazardous/toxic material that will be on-site and knowing what PPE will be required is prudent practice.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 5:
Attend and Participate in the Pre-construction Meeting

In his 2017 post to KTAUniversity.com, Kimmer Cline discusses conducting effective, efficient pre-construction meetings.[3] A good, effective pre-construction meeting can serve as a mini partnering session where all parties discuss the upcoming project (pre-production) and hopefully address potential issues before they arise during production. Unless restricted by your client, you should attend and fully participate in the meeting by gaining clarification to the project specification or product requirements listed on the PDS (that you have already reviewed), responding to questions regarding inspection, and noting outcomes from the discussion that impact the project. While meeting minutes should be kept and disseminated (often by others), keep your own notes in case there is a delay in receiving the minutes.

Not every project will have a pre-construction meeting associated with it, but that does not mean you should not get your questions/clarifications resolved. Unless prohibited by your client, you may need to contact the owner/specifier or coating manufacturer directly for answers. In these cases, get the responses in writing and ask whether the questions and responses will be shared with all parties. Communication is critical to the entire process.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 6:
Obtain Pre-project Safety Training and/or Required Medical Surveillance

Consider the hazards that will be encountered on the upcoming project and whether you have current training that addresses those hazards. Fall protection, confined space entry, hazard communication (Hazcom), lead exposure, and additional site-specific training may be required. Inquire whether proof of training is required, and what form of proof is needed. Note that more extensive training (e.g., OSHA 10-hour training, OSHA 30-hour training) and on-site safety training/orientation may be required by fixed facilities like chemical/petrochemical plants and power-generating plants. Some on-site safety training must be pre-scheduled and may take multiple days to complete.

Pre-project medical surveillance may include respirator use questionnaires, physicals, blood/urine tests, chest x-rays, and drug/alcohol screenings that will need to be administered by a licensed physician and medical laboratory. Results of these tests may not be available for several days so knowing what is required and getting the surveillance completed in a timely manner is important. Some facilities will not allow you on-site until they have this information.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 7:
Obtain PPE Compatible with Jobsite Conditions/Rules

Showing up on a project without PPE, or PPE that isn’t compatible with jobsite conditions/rules can result in delays accessing the site to perform inspections, not to mention embarrassing. The list of PPE that is needed/required can be extensive, but consider these 10 items and any associated training regarding proper use/adjustment:

  1. Hardhat
  2. Eye Protection
  3. Hearing Protection
  4. Respiratory Protection
  5. Gloves
  6. Coveralls/Fire-Retardant Coveralls
  7. Workboots/Steel Toe Boots/Metatarsal Guards
  8. Traffic Vest
  9. Fall protection (harness, lanyard, and attachments compatible with rigging (i.e., vertical/horizontal lifelines, etc.)
  10. Life Jacket (for working over water)

Also consider having a personal first aid kit, respirator cleaning wipes, mosquito repellant, and sun block.

Note that hardhats and fall protection harnesses have expiration dates, and any fall protection system that has been subjected to a fall event cannot be reused and must be discarded.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 8:
Verify the Type of Inspection Equipment Required for
the Project; Verify Operation, Accuracy, and Calibration

While this one seems obvious, we can get lackadaisical about what inspection equipment is required by specification versus what we typically use, like to use, or have. Review the specification and referenced standards for specific gage types or methods. For example, the specification may invoke Method C in ASTM D4417 (replica tape), so taking surface profile measurements with a depth micrometer (Method B) violates the specification requirements. Bringing SSPC-VIS 1 to a project that specifies hand/power tool cleaning (and the use of SSPC-VIS 3, not SSPC-VIS 1) can signify that you haven’t read the project specification and are unprepared. Having a traditional ferrous probe for measuring coating thickness on a Duplex coating project can result in extended inspection times and additional data management (some gage manufacturers produce a Duplex probe that reveals the galvanize or thermal spray coating thickness separate from the liquid or powder coat thickness on a dual display).

When working in confined spaces, consider whether sparking is permitted. If not, any battery-operated instrument cannot be used (coating inspection gages are not typically intrinsically safe). Also consider specified methods of surface soluble salt detection, which kits are needed, and the volume of consumables you need to have. Try to anticipate the volume of other consumables you may need such as replica tape and spare batteries.

Prior to mobilizing, verify the operation and accuracy of your inspection instruments as appropriate and ensure instrument calibrations are current. Depending on the time of year and backlog, an accredited calibration laboratory make take a few weeks to calibrate your instruments (assuming they don’t need to be repaired). Instrument calibrations that expire mid-project can be problematic unless loaner/spare instruments are readily available. Consider what would happen on a pipeline job when your Shore D Durometer probe is discovered to be out of calibration and the contractor wants to begin backfilling but cannot start until the field-applied girth weld coating is proven to have a minimum Shore D hardness of 75. Delays in backfilling while waiting for a calibrated instrument to arrive could be devastating for your career.  Certified coating inspectors should know better.

Pre-project Responsibility No. 9:
Prepare an Inspection Test Plan (ITP)

The January 2024 edition of the KTA Certified Coating Inspector Forum focused on the importance of inspection planning and described the process of preparing simple and complex format Inspection Test Plans or ITPs[4]. Planning, preparation, and execution of a well-prepared plan are what leads to a successful coatings project. A properly prepared ITP can provide a roadmap of what to inspect, how to inspect, and what the acceptance criteria are, while minimizing the risk of missing an inspection checkpoint, or invoking an incorrect requirement. An effective ITP covers all phases of work in the sequence in which they will occur. Preparing a plan essentially requires an inspector to navigate through and extract inspection check points from the specification, review the requirements of the PDS for the coating(s) being used, and transfer them to a more focused document. For further information on preparing an ITP (including examples), read the January 2024 post to KTA University.

Summary

Recognizing and addressing your pre-project responsibilities are a critical in setting the stage for a successful coating inspection project. Nine pre-project responsibilities were described in this column, including reviewing and comprehending the project specification, PDS, and SDS; preparing for, and participating in the pre-construction meeting; obtaining project-specified training, medical surveillance, and PPE; gathering project-specific inspection equipment and verifying operation and calibration; and preparing an Inspection Test Plan or ITP. Before you begin your next coating inspection assignment, consider whether you are truly prepared before you mobilize to the project site. Your project will go more smoothly when you are.


[1] Coatings 101: Inspection – What it Takes and What You Need to Know, Journal of Protective Coatings and Linings, Volume 39, No. 11 (November 2022)

[2] Let’s Talk About How Inspectors Can Effectively Use Product Data Sheets, KTA’s Certified Coating Inspector Forum; Volume 2, Issue No. 1 – January 2023

[3] How to Conduct a Pre-construction Conference, Kimmer A. Cline, PE, www.KTAUniversity.com, August 2017

[4] Let’s Talk About Inspection Planning, KTA’s Certified Coating Inspector Forum; Volume 3, Issue No. 1 – January 2024

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