Learn everything that you need to know to launch a new — and potentially more secure — career.
Have you been thinking about starting a new career? Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic has left you feeling insecure about the work that you’re currently doing in the bridge and road industry, and it’s time to make a change.
One option to consider is becoming a bridge inspector. You may be able to leverage your current experience to transition into this growing field. With more and more bridges falling into disrepair because of a long-term lack of government funding for basic bridge maintenance, the demand for inspectors is high. Add to this the Biden administration’s commitment to increasing bridge repair and development activity, and it becomes clear that the amount of inspection work available could be increasing for the foreseeable future.
Here’s what you need to know to become a bridge inspector.
What is a bridge inspector?
Let’s start with the basics. Bridge inspectors analyze and evaluate the condition of bridges to ensure that they’re safe so people can feel secure about crossing them. Beginning inspectors handle basic inspection-related tasks, like setting up equipment and keeping records, while highly experienced ones do more in-depth and sophisticated work, including making recommendations about how to preserve and improve structures.
What bridge inspectors do.
Standard, everyday bridge inspector job duties include things like:
- Climbing bridges, using ropes or advanced lifts, to thoroughly inspect all areas of bridges, including the critical structural areas beneath them.
- Navigating drones equipped with cameras and other things to see into hard-to-reach bridge areas.
- Checking that viaducts are structurally sound and able to carry all types of traffic.
- Monitoring construction activities and inspecting development and repair work to make sure it’s all done to code.
- Tracking changes in bridge condition over time.
- Watching equipment installation to ensure that it’s done properly.
- Using a range of instruments and tools to survey and test different parts of bridges to make sure they’re structurally sound.
- Maintaining ongoing records of inspection activities and results.
- Photographing, filming, and x-raying all aspects of bridges.
- Making recommendations for improving structures.
- Approving construction and maintenance work that meets structural codes and standards.
Anyone who wants to become a bridge inspector should be comfortable doing all these things. In addition, they shouldn’t be afraid of heights. They must also have an interest in engineering and be detail oriented and tech savvy. It’s important to care about the safety and security of others. People considering a bridge inspection career must be aware that work could take place in inclement or dangerous weather conditions. If you decide to become a bridge inspector, you may be required to work in challenging situations.
Demand for bridge inspectors and pay rates.
According to ZipRecruiter, as of April 2021, the average annual pay for a bridge inspector in the United States is almost $66,000 per year. That works out to approximately $32.00 an hour and almost $1,300 per week. Depending on the area of the United States, job requirements, and skill level, salaries typically range between $44,000 and $86,000 per year. The same source reports significant demand for inspectors across most of the country.
Training required to become certified.
In order for a bridge inspector to get certified, they need to complete a training program.
There are many certification training programs available. Before anyone can enroll, they need a high school diploma or GED. This is also a requirement for most entry-level bridge inspector jobs. More advanced positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a civil engineering-related discipline.
The National Bridge Inspection Standards, which governs the industry, requires that bridge inspection training courses be approved by the Federal Highway Administration.
Bridge inspection training courses typically cover many relevant topics, including an in-depth review of concrete, steel, and timber bridge evaluation, along with steel deterioration, waterway safety, tools, federal codes, and required documentation and paperwork.
Bridge inspector training and certification programs.
If you decide to become a bridge inspector, find a program that will train you, prepare you for an exam, allow you to take the exam, and certify you. A program isn’t worth it if it doesn’t deliver everything that you need.
Examples of respected programs include the following.
The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) has a program called Highway Construction Inspection that offers four levels of certification related to highway and bridge work.
- The level one program is for technicians who handle a limited range of basic bridge and road inspection job tasks under heavy supervision.
- The level two program is for people who perform routine tasks under regular levels of daily supervision.
- The level three program is for technicians who have expanded responsibilities and work under little or no daily supervision and have a solid understanding of how to read plans, interpret standards, follow instructions, and work through specifications.
- The level four program is designed for independent, senior-level technicians and supervisors. This type of certification is reserved for the most experienced and senior bridge and highway inspectors.
You do not need to have lower-level certifications to qualify for higher ones, but you will need to at least meet their requirements in order to earn the higher certifications.
To qualify for this program, you will need:
- Sufficient work experience.
- To successfully pass a written exam based on job tasks.
- Verification from a supervisor that you can competently handle the required job tasks for higher-level certifications.
- Personal recommendations for the top-level certification.
There are fees to participate in the program, take the exam, and reschedule, if necessary. You will receive your results after taking your exam and be certified once all the requirements for the level are met.
NHI Certification Course
The National Highway Institute (NHI) has been accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) as an Accredited Certification Course Provider. That means the NHI program complies with the American National Standards Institute and IACET standards that are recognized internationally. The NHI is also authorized to provide continuing education programs for bridge inspectors.
Training includes information on how to safely inspect in-service highway bridges and how to conduct virtual bridge inspections. The basic course also offers instruction on how to identify structural issues and respond to them. More advanced courses explain how to handle critical issues, do underwater inspections, and handle complex situations.
People who take the courses have to earn a 70% score on midterm and end-of-course tests in order to receive a certificate of completion.
Candidates who successfully complete this course fulfill the bridge inspection training requirements of the National Bridge Inspection Standards. Many states have additional requirements in order to become a bridge inspection team leader.
BCI Certification Program
The Bridge Coating Inspector Program (BCI) offers two levels of certification for people who want to inspect bridge coatings. The higher level certification allows people to carry out more in-depth inspection activities and supervise others. There are no prerequisites to participate in this program.
Once someone passes the test for each course, they are certified to inspect bridge coatings for four years. After that, they will need to take part in a recertification program.
Bridge inspector licensing requirements.
The requirements for getting a bridge inspector license vary by state and can be found by doing an online search. They typically include a certain amount of practical field experience, a minimum level of education (usually a high school diploma), and passing a state-approved exam.
Some states have individual licensing programs for bridge inspectors, while others may offer program certification through associations like the National Fire Protection Association, International Code Council, International Association of Electrical Inspectors, and International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.
Have questions about being a bridge inspector? The team at Bridge Masters partners with them all the time. Contact us, and if we can’t help, we may be able to refer you to someone who can.