Traits of a Good Electrical Inspector

What are the guidelines for determining whether or not a person is a good electrical inspector? Qualifications for becoming an electrical inspector vary greatly. Some jurisdictions may not require any electrical training and experience to be 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 an inspector has becomes evident within a short period of time. When a person either 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 code questions 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:Generally speaking, 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. 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 _han having a negative attitude of trying to find something wrong with a job. Listening to an inspector talk with a contractor or engineer provides a good insight into the attitude the person has in relation to the job. One main point that needs to kept in mind is that to see a job done correctly, the electrical inspector should workwithinstallers, designers and manufacturers’ representatives, etc., butforthe consumer or general public_

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, 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 when 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. This is one of the reasons 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 fully comprehend field situations and to evaluate them according to written rules. Without field experience, it is more difficult to see the whole picture.

Consistency:Consistency 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 theNational Electrical Code®that are not precise in nature. An example of this is Exception No. 5 to Section 230-2(a). Exception No. 5 permits more than one service to a building of large area where special permission is given. For consistency, both the definition of a “building of large area” and the use of “special permission” should be understood and used 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, 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 every time a job is done.

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 on 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. There is no substitute for an inspector’s good judgment in evaluating electrical installations and applying code rules. Section 90-4 of the NEC® 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 Section 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 installations methods, know the difference between “wrenchtight” as applied to a run of 3/4-inch conduit as 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 confidant 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 a lot of problems and help eliminate misunderstandings. It is a learned skill in most cases. When people enter into conversations with their minds made up, or don’t want to hear what is being said, there is little chance of solving problems. Being able to effectively communicate is a skill vital to a professional electrical inspector. 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 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 effectively work out this type of situation. 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. Many such confrontations can be resolved and the involved parties reach a cordial understanding. Unfortunately, if these confrontations can’t be resolved, the inspector may end up with an adversarial form of enforcement.

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

Philip Cox
Former IAEI Executive Director, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief for the IAEI News, Philip Cox was formerly employed with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association as a field representative covering a 17-state area. He is a member of NFPA NEC Technical Correlating Committee. He served on Code-Making Panel No. 6, representing IAEI during the Code cycles for the 1984 and 1987 editions of the NEC. He served as chairman of CMP-1, representing the National Electrical Manufacturers Association during the 1996 cycle. He served as acting chairman of CMP-1, representing IAEI for the 1999 cycle and remains as a member of that panel for the 2002 Code cycle. He is a member of NFPA Electrical Section; UL Electrical Council; ITS Technical Advisory Council; and former member of The Chauncey Group International Board of Governors for the National Certification Program for Construction Code Inspectors; and former member of the IEC United States National Committee Executive Committee. He also served as chief electrical inspector for the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, and was secretary to the Little Rock Electrical Examining Board, developing and administering examinations for master, journeyman and specialty electricians. He was appointed as electrical safety coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Labor and administered the Arkansas state electrical licensing law. Cox is past president of the Western Section, IAEI, and served on the IAEI Board of Directors as board member and fifth vice president. He has been involved in the development and presentation of IAEI training programs on both chapter and international level.