Comment |

Coating Inspectors: Are We Necessary?


By Warren Brand

Over 30 years in the industry, I’ve been on most sides of many paint issues. I’ve owned a painting company; I’ve represented coatings; and I’m a coating consultant and inspector with an SSPC-PCS, NACE 3 and MBA.

Through all those years, I have observed the perennial debate over the role of (and even need for) the coatings inspector.

This blog will probe that question.

Let me start by providing a blanket apology to anyone I’m about to offend.

© iStock / mstroz

Did this job need a third-party coating inspector? Or just a highly qualified, responsible painting contractor?

I have no motivation other than to share the truth as I see it. This is simply one person thinking aloud.

The Inspector’s Role: 2 Views

What should be the inspector’s role? For some, the inspector should observe, document and report—nothing more.

Others believe that the role should be more broad. That an inspector should offer advice and, in fact, speak openly with the contractor.

I’m not talking about an inspector giving direction—though any contractor worth her salt would ignore directions by an inspector (or anyone else) unless that person was explicitly given that authority through the contract.

Speaking Up

The only argument I’ve heard for inspectors not speaking their minds with contractors is fear of legal liability.

This has always left me scratching my (rapidly graying and thinning) scalp.

Is someone actually writing specifications and contract documents that allow a contractor to accept verbal direction from someone not in authority?

Isn’t it written into every contract that the contractor is ultimately responsible for performance?

And that no changes can be made to the specification and associated documents without something in writing?

Are there really a significant amount of inspectors being sued over this issue?

These are not rhetorical questions. I’d like to know.

Supply: The Mother of Necessity?

I know that the industry is screaming for more inspectors, and that associations are scrambling to fill these slots.

Polishing turbine blade
© iStock / mstroz

Isn’t it written into every contract that the contractor is ultimately responsible for performance?

These organizations are making money.  And, like all organizations (including my own), they want to make more money.

But here’s the rub. Are we creating a stir, buzz, myth, cult or whatever-you-call-it where no painting projects can take place without an inspector on site?

Does Apple have a third-party inspector for every iPhone? Or does it train technicians to fill that role?

Does NASA hire third-party inspectors for, well, anything? I honestly don’t know.


I can tell you that my old coating company had been in business about 50 years before I left—and I was there for about 25 years.

At that time, we offered the industry’s longest guarantees (routinely 10-year, non-prorated), with a miniscule failure rate and an outstanding reputation.

And we never, ever, had a third-party inspector on site.

Tank Trial

Here’s a case in point: Around 1994, we did some work for a Fortune 100 company that had a large, concrete, wastewater treatment tank.

The tank had been lined three times in seven years. Each lining failed.

Cargo Hold
© iStock / vice_and_virtue

The current animosity between inspectors and contractors is not helping our industry or owners.

The tank was by then in pretty bad shape, with large chunks of missing concrete and exposed rebar. After hiring a firm to ensure that it was structurally sound, they asked our advice.

The Plan

Our recommendation:

1.     Blast the crap out of the tank. Remove all the coating down to the concrete, and blast the rebar to white metal.

2.     Spray a bunch of thick coating on the tank walls, on and behind the rebar, and into the bug holes until it goops out and runs all over the place. (Think of a runny wedding cake.)

3.     Invoice the client.

Most coating manufacturers said we needed to trowel the surface smooth. Fill in all the bug-holes by hand. Smooth the pitted areas with exposed rebar. Use a primer and multiple coats. And so on.

Well, we didn’t. And this summer marks the tank's 20th year of service, with no maintenance whatsoever.

Rocket Science?

Was this unusual? Not at all. My old company has hundreds, if not thousands, of tanks that last more than 20 years without maintenance.

I’m not saying that we did anything special. I am saying that painting is not rocket science—though one might think so from reading some of our technical publications and the unfathomable number and types of two-part epoxies and other coatings.

Inspector v. Contractor

The mantra of inspectors is: “You’ve gotta watch these contractors, or they’ll cut corners.”

Thermal Spraying
© iStock / Dreef

Painting is not rocket science—though one might think so, from reading some of our technical publications and the unfathomable number and types of coatings.

For contractors, it’s: “Those damn inspectors don’t know what they’re doing and don’t use any common sense.”

Left unchecked, such mindsets will lead to more animosity and mistrust between these groups.That’s great business for inspectors and the entities supplying them, but not so much for owners—or for the industry as a whole.

The Painters’ Mindset

We are involved with a project now where my inspector was having some trouble with painters cutting corners. His response: “Well, you know, painters have a different mindset.”

I once walked away from bidding on an extremely large project here in Chicago simply because of the contractor’s hostility toward the bidding vendors.

They had put into the contract a $15,000-per-day penalty for not completing operations on time. After the meeting, I overheard one contractor snigger to another, “Well, my price just went up 200K.”

An Eye on Quality

The industry needs to shift. We don’t need more inspectors. We need to educate, support, motivate and incentivize contractors to build, maintain and enforce their own QA/QC programs.

In fact, is it possible that having inspectors on site incentivizes contractors to lower their level of care, knowing (or believing) that the inspector is there to catch any defects?

What if there were no inspector on site? What if the contractor had his own QA/QC program and that technician knew he could lose his job over non-compliance?

What do you think would happen to the level of quality within that organization?

False Sense of Security

It reminds me of cameras at hotel swimming pools. There have been a number of lawsuits against hotels that had cameras trained on pools where people had drowned.

In those cases, the cameras were either broken or unwatched. The plaintiffs argued that rather than enhancing safety, the cameras had provided a false sense of security to swimmers.

I run my businesses by looking for fundamental truths about technical issues and at who’s incentivized to do what.

In this case, I believe we are surrounded by well-intended, highly competent individuals, corporations and other entities that, in some cases, are poorly incentivized.

Note: Warren added this caveat on April 25, 2014, after publication:

Contracts need to be rewritten. Money should be allocated to contractors for them to perform their own QA/QC and provide associated documentation. Contractors should be brought into every aspect of development of coating specifications. Specifications need to be site-specific (not general boiler plates) and provided to contractors for review before final RFQ’s are submitted. And, lastly, severe financial and other consequences need to be written into the contract, and enforced, for non-compliance.


Warren Brand

Warren Brand’s coatings career has ranged from entry-level field painting to the presidency of two successful companies. Over nearly three decades, he has project-managed thousands of coating installations and developed specs for thousands of paint and coating applications. NACE Level 3 and SSPC PCS certified, Brand, an MBA and martial-arts instructor, now heads Chicago Corrosion Group, a leading coatings consultancy. Contact Warren.



Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Consultants; NACE; Protective Coating Specialist (PCS); Protective coatings; Specification writing; SSPC; Inspection; Painting Contractors; Quality control; Quality Control

Comment from jose carlos muriel silva, (4/25/2014, 8:03 AM)

Congratulations for your comments without passions.

Comment from ivor williams, (4/25/2014, 8:03 AM)


Comment from Kevin Hahn-Keith, (4/25/2014, 8:34 AM)

I agree Quality Control is not the inspector’s job to perform for the Contractor, but in my experience as a Resident Engineer for bridge painting contracts, inspectors are necessary for quality assurance. It is the exceptional, uncommon case where the low bidding firm is going to be conscientious about following the specifications. Documentation is also a key part of the inspector's job and in my opinion Contractors are not very good at providing documentation of their projects.

Comment from MARIANA HUHULEA, (4/25/2014, 8:52 AM)

Fully agree with the “need to educate[...] Contractors to build, maintain and enforce their QA/QC”. It is essential. But "to support, motivate and incentivize"? how? if not part of their Organization? it is a lot to talk about, considering especially what happens now into shipping (and protective) industry (outside USA). It is useless for a Paint Manufacturer to appoint an insufficiently trained Inspector on-site, just because it must be someone and services included into paints cost. But an experienced one can make a difference. 100% Just have under my eyes a project(shipbuilding) recently cancelled by its initial Owners that is currently managed by Shipyard only, in its attempt to find another Buyer. You cannot believe! Owner's inspectors? Again, his/her skill makes the difference into final result. And it can be huge. Speaking from 20 years experience...All the best!

Comment from Warren Brand, (4/25/2014, 8:52 AM)

Hi Kevin, I couldn’t agree more. And I’m kicking myself because I left out the following paragraph from this post: "Contracts need to be rewritten. Money should be allocated to contractors for them to perform their own QA/QC and provide associated documentation. Contractors should be brought into every aspect of development of coating specifications. Specifications need to be site-specific (not general boiler plates) and provided to contractors for review before final RFQ’s are submitted. And, lastly, severe financial and other consequences need to be written into the contract, and enforced, for non-compliance." Your thoughts? Warren

Comment from Ryan Smith, (4/25/2014, 9:12 AM)

Perhaps the real problem here is "who" is hiring the inspectors. If contracts were rewritten and contractors were allocated money to hire they're own third party inspector or train someone to fill that roll in they're organization would that change things? An unqualified person doing an inspection seams dangerous. So it seams to me the need for qualified inspectors will always remain. Maybe we simply need to rethink the way we utilize they're expertise.

Comment from Mark Puckett, (4/25/2014, 11:16 AM)

Inspectors are QA, not QC. They can only enforce specifications as written but communication is essential. Boiler plate specs are the bane of the industry and site specific specifications really are essential for all bidding parties to be notified what is to be expected. Too many owners dont understand the importance of proper qualified inspection and actual useful QC programs by contractors Take for instance the oil/gas industry..they all understand the importance of welding and inspection but many virtually all but ignore proper coating preparation and application..considering the only thing between the buried pipe and failure for the next 25 years is the coating youd think they would give it the proper attention it deserves

Comment from William Pybus, (4/25/2014, 1:07 PM)

Yes, “good” inspectors are necessary. “Good” inspectors ask questions to both the Client and the Contractor. "Good" inspectors" establish their areas of responsibility and authority on the Jobsite. "Good" inspectors review the submittal documentation and Project Specs, mark/highlight areas relevant to their duties, and keep up with daily inspection reports and take photos. "Good" inspectors actually perform Hold Point inspections, even if they have to get filthy or physically uncomfortable (climb, crawl, etc.), but always in a safe manner. Note: No structure or job is worth dying for to save a few minutes inspection time. Inspect, verify, and document is the "good" inspector's mantra, but also includes "inform relevant parties (client, engineer, and contractor) ASAP of inspection findings". Note the deficiencies and document the Contractor's decision to either correct the deficiency or generate a nonconformance. Nonconformance documentation should be generated but only if the Contractor does not perform corrective actions in a timely manner to comply with the Project Specification. Too bad, there are not enough "Good" inspectors out there anymore.

Comment from Charles Stewart, (4/25/2014, 9:23 PM)

As long as a contract is awarded to the “lowest bidder” there will be the possibility of larceny. I like to say "When you hire the fox to guard the hen house, don't get angry when he eats a chicken" In my experience the most important thing for an inspector or an angry contractor to understand is that it's not about you. Unfortunately that is a hard sell in Public Money projects because of the liability of loss. I also wish that the contractor's personnel would remember that no one bids a job to do it twice. I have worked both QA and QC and I believe that QC is much more rewarding when leadership and integrity actually mean something.

Comment from Adan Cabeltes, (4/25/2014, 10:54 PM)

IMO the iphone analogy can only happen to the painting industry if ABC Inc. who need tanks would hire its own blasters, painters, and inspectors. unfortunately the industry always rely on subcontracting to avoid administrating headaches.

Comment from Cristiano Godoy, (4/27/2014, 2:34 AM)

As William Pybus mentioned “good inspector” is very useful. Contractors cannot working by himself. In this days still has a professional, knowledgeable and responsible inspector. But the same time has a "lot" unprofessional inspectors who doesn't care about his/her job. It's sad see that happened. Inspectors should ask contractors, be a part of the company that he/she is working for it. Inspectors are definitely necessary to make the difference and make the job professional and finish the right way as in the specs.

Comment from Kevin Hahn-Keith, (4/28/2014, 9:17 AM)

Warren (and others), I agree specifications need to be rewritten. I have seen too many cut and paste specifications in my career. Most of them are from the product data sheets and lack any project specificity. However, that is off topic, I think the real key is to emphasize quality right from the beginning and demand it from everyone, including designers and other consultants. Quality inspectors are part of the whole and they need to be trained, mentored, and guided to do their job correctly. They also need to be independent from the contractor! Even assuming good, honest contractors, everyone makes mistakes and our natural inclination is to cover them up, so independent inspectors are needed to catch both honest mistakes and dishonest acts. I think the client's money is better spent hiring an outside inspection (and testing) firm, than giving the contractor additional money for quality. One other point regarding communications. I always tell my inspectors not to fight with the contractor. Instead, tell me the problem (or your idea to improve things) and I will take the issue up with the contractor. This is for two reasons: 1) The inspector has to work with the contractor every day and any animosity will interfere with that relationship. 2)it can be a fine line between advising and directing in a legal sense, so it is better to get issues properly documented and correctly worded. I think this blog post is good and inspiring conversation for all of us to think about what our job is.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/28/2014, 11:14 AM)

Warren, an excellent entry...and some great comments from the group as well. Although my experience with coating jobs is a little different (usually related to the environmental aspects), I have seen exactly what Warren refers to for both the coatings and environmental aspects of several jobs. There are some great contractors and inspectors out there....and others that if you asked for a box, you'd get a sphere because they'd cut every corner they could. Kevin, I think you're right...avoiding the animosity is a great goal. I've always worked to have a positive relationship with the contractors I've dealt with...I'm there for the owner, but I'm also there to try to help the contractor meet the requirements of the contract and avoid issues with regulators that could lead to some pretty nasty impacts to the project (the latter is not typical on coatings jobs, I know). I keep the contractors informed about what I'm seeing, but if they cannot/will not deal with the issues, then I let the folks with the needed authority deal with the shortcomings. If it is done right, you can get the job done well without animosity, and everyone benefits.

Comment from Harry Tsioukanaras, (4/28/2014, 2:17 PM)

from contractors point of view. Why is the owner hiring an engineer to create an estimate cost for the project and then they turn around and give it to the lowest bidder, with 50% less then the estimated amount. So I think we need to educate the owner, good contractors cost good money

Comment from Warren Brand, (4/28/2014, 5:18 PM)

Thank you all very much for taking the time to read and comment on this important topic.

Comment from James Albertoni, (4/29/2014, 10:54 AM)

The nature of the beast is that you get what you pay for. Good contractors, with the correct mindset, do good work and cost more. Unfortunately, in the public sector, low-bid is king and if a contractor doesn't cut corners, he or she doesn't make money.

Comment from Michael Deaton, (4/30/2014, 7:25 PM)

As long as there are owners(who are people) trying to make money(which is the driving force of greed), there is and always will be the need for inspectors. I have 28 years in this business and have completed hundreds of jobs throughout the years. Some without inspectors and many with inspectors. You give a contractor the opportunity to perform a coatings project without an inspector and go back in 5 to 7 years and see what you have compared to the same project with a legitimate, fair and honest will see the difference. Plain and simple! great write up Mr Warren.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (5/2/2014, 10:55 AM)

Warren, this is an interesting blog and interesting comments as well. We all can speak from our own personal experience. It all obviously starts with a adequate project specific specifications. It is very frequent that the spec writer, being an owner, engineer, or inexperienced paint salesperson, requesting a bid on a set of specifications that will fail regardless of the contractor or inspector. The owner should consult with coating experts to first to develop an adequate spec. based on his/her expectations of the coating performance. Coating suppliers are not always in the know and tend to specify their own products versus generic specs. The spec writer should also have the accountability to design a set of inspection guidelines for someone to verify application conditions, quantities re-coat windows etc. If all this happens and the contractors performs as per the coating requirement, it is more likely that the project will succeed. Much too frequently, we bid a project where we know that the specification will not meet the expected results. Most of the time, if we are the successful bidder we change the specification after the bid and take accountability for the new specification and coating performance. In some cases the owner will not change the specs. In a recent project we followed the specs to the letter, had two inspection entities, and even then, the coating failed. During the pre-construction meeting we provided a written report predicting the failure areas of the project, and provided alternate specifications. The 8 billion dollar coating manufacturer rep did not agree with out assessment, but the coating still failed. In some cases, the products specified are not adequate for the application regardless of the contractor and regardless of the inspectors. Third party coating inspectors are needed, however, they do also need to have knowledge and experience to know when the products are being specified incorrectly.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (5/2/2014, 12:42 PM)

Warren, after reading the entry again, I can feel the frustration. In my opinion, if a contractor purposely bids the project low and then attempts to make money on change orders or in cutting corners, I can see where animosity may develop. On the other hand I have worked with inspectors which purposely ( it seems) were purposely trying to break the contractor. If a general contractor is involved, sometimes the general purposely underbids, and then finds a cheaper coating contractor to perform the work at sub par levels. In some cases, I feel very strongly that the coating manufacturer should also provide a meaningful warranty, versus the typical non warranty of that they manufacture the product consistently time after time. This does not warrant that the product will work. When was the last time the coatings were tested to see if it meets the chemical resistance, physical properties, and properties important to the application? almost never happens. When was the last time the specifying Engineer was present at the job site to make sure his/her specifications were correct?

Comment from Mark Schilling, (5/2/2014, 6:29 PM)

Warren, I appreciate your point of view but I would narrow the focus to - is 3rd party inspection by NACE or SSPC certified inspectors a necessity? I say - no. Somebody is $elling something. It so often turns out to be make-work, an added expense. I have 36 years of experience in industry, mostly as an end user with major oil companies. I am not a certified coatings inspector because I never needed that credential. I was smarter than that and I was the facility owner's represenative. I trained company people to be coating inspectors. And what I said on the job was not "advice" to a contractor. I wasn't just a note-taker. I had authority. What do we really get from NACE and SSPC certified goofs other than a lot of paperwork - at considerable expense? I recall when NACE was first getting the inspector certification process going in the early 80s. I was involved. I provided comments. I still have some of the original documents. And I remember a time when SSPC certified nobody for anything. That bears repeating - they trained and certified nobody for anything. What happened?! How did anybody ever get any paint job to last anywhere before we had this mob of 3rd party inspectors, largely focused on testing for soluble salt contamination?! I can tell you - we did just fine. I know what has been happening. In the past, NACE and SSPC made a majority of their income from conferences. With the rise of the internet, conference attendence has dwindled. One can go to conference to meet with people, have dinner, play golf, etc. But there isn't much "technical" in technical conferences anymore. You certainly don't go to conference to get product data. You can get all the tech info you want on-line sitting at home. So, with SSPC in particular, we have seen an exposion in training and certification. It's a great gig if you you can get it. Get people to pay for the traing and certification and then make them pay every 4 of 5 years for recertification (for doing pretty much nothing). Then you have a steady income stream. It's all about the money.

Comment from Warren Brand, (5/3/2014, 7:08 AM)

Hi Mark. When I became a consultant, I had not SSPC or NACE designations. I only had 25 years of practical experience. However, when I went to my first large client (a midwest zoo undergoing a 25 million dollar rehab) the project manager said to me, "Why the hell should I hire you - you don't have any initial's behind your name." Within a year or two I was an SSPC- PCS and NACE 3. I couldn't agree with you more. While NACE and SSPC do really nice work and are well intended, well, I couldn't put it any better than you. Thanks for the response.

Comment from Warren Brand, (5/3/2014, 7:14 AM)

Hi Jerry, I couldn't agree more. However, paint manufacturer's are not in the business of providing warranties, or, for that matter, necessarily compatibility or longevity of their products. Wouldn't one think that paint makers would want to, perhaps, have their own inspectors on occasion to ensure that their product was applied properly? Well, of course not. Paint makers are in the business of making, and selling, paint. The more they sell, the more they make, the more money they make. They are not incentivized or inclined to offer extended warranties nor, from my perspective, are they particularly interested in ensuring that their coatings are installed properly. I once asked a paint executive if he would consider hiring my firm to ensure that their material were installed properly (we had been drinking a bit) and he scoffed and said, "Why on earth would I want our material installed properly?"

Comment from Warren Brand, (5/3/2014, 7:16 AM)

Michael and James - thank you both very much. I couldn’t agree more.

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Tarps manufacturing, Inc.

base painters

Quikspray, Inc.

Key Resin Company

Modern Safety Techniques

Paint BidTracker



Technology Publishing Co., 1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 2008, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL

The Technology Publishing Network

PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy Policy   |   Terms & Conditions   |   Support   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us