How to Make an Irrational Inspector Rational

Learn about five ways a contractor can challenge an inspector.

Inspectors are usually competent, hard-working, qualified individuals. But over the last 30 years contractors have sometimes complained about inspectors who can’t be described using those three qualities. After explaining their situations, the contractors would then ask for our advice. Unfortunately, we couldn’t provide much help. We have heard of a few creative solutions for this problem, and are sharing them so you can possibly make an irrational inspector rational.

What makes an inspector irrational? For the most part, we’ve heard from contractors that the inspector won’t play by the rule book—the contract documents. For instance, while the contract documents allow tolerances, the inspector won’t. We heard recently of one case where drawings showed the top rebar mat at 3 in. below the top surface. The rebar mat was measured to be at 2-7/8 in. below the surface but the inspector required a replacement because it wasn’t exactly at 3 in. as shown on the drawings. That’s just one example of an irrational inspector.

So how can contractors deal with the problem?

Option 1: Meetings.
Ask for a meeting to see if other members of the construction or design team, or the owner, can understand why the inspector is being unreasonable. This is rarely effective because the contractor is often the only member of the construction team who’s willing to speak up and say anything negative about another team member.

Option 2: Challenge the inspection reports.
Get a consultant to write a letter stating that the inspector is not providing appropriate inspection comments or is requiring changes not appropriate for the contract documents. Sometimes this works because the opinion of an outside consultant carries more weight and can be presented as evidence of the contractor’s efforts to rectify a problem.

Option 3: Shadow the inspector.
Recently we heard from contractors who hired a consultant for a week to shadow an inspector. The consultant took photos of what the inspector saw, making notes about what the inspector said and directed. The contractor would then submit the consultant’s report as evidence concerning the inspection process. We heard that this is somewhat effective.

Option 4: Video the inspection process.
A contractor told us he has installed GoPro cameras on two of his foremen’s hard hats to document the inspection process and all conversations by video. Contractors might consider buying these as an innovative method for documenting the inspection process. We've heard that being on camera has changed some inspector’s behavior.

Option 5: Submit a change order.
Contractors sign agreements that require them to construct in accordance with the contract documents. But if the contract documents allow for tolerances and the inspector does not, then this is a changed condition or modification of the contract. Based on this change, contractors can file a change order asking for more time and money to accommodate the change. Because the management side is not interested in considering any change in money or time, they typically have a conversation with the field side to discuss the issue. As a result of this conversation, we have seen a change in the field side. Sometimes we suggest increasing the impact of the change order by submitting a consultant’s report noting the changed conditions or modifications as shown by the inspection reports or non-compliance reports (NCR’s). In addition, with GoPro cameras, video evidence can also be submitted. We haven’t ever heard from a contractor that actually received more time or money but at least we have heard from a few for which the inspection process improved.

Be aware that all of these challenges to the inspector might make things worse. The contractors we talk to, however, often say things couldn’t get any worse and are willing to take the risk of challenging the inspector. We are interested in hearing from other contractors who have had this issue. Please share your stories of successful or unsuccessful counter-measures so we can improve our ability to recommend methods for making an irrational inspector rational.