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Inspections and Structural Observations

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Teresa,

The important item that has not been addressed so far is that project
inspections are handled differently depending on the jurisdiction.  Although
we all use the UBC in California, the code has been augmented by different
cities and government agencies in different areas of the state.  If this
project is owned by a government agency or if it is within or near the City
of LA, my reply may not be useful to you.  Government agencies, especially
at the county and state level, have different requirements for project
inspections, and the City of LA is almost its own country.   The term
"deputy inspector" only exists within the LA city area  as far as I know,
although it may extend to all of southern Ca.

I practiced structural engineering in northern California for 15 years and
only recently moved to southern Ca.  I also ran the special inspection
department within a structural engineering design firm for three years so I
am very familiar with the inspection and observation requirements in the
northern part of the state.  

Special inspections and structural observations require different
qualifications:

A Special Inspector is qualified by the BUILDING OFFICIAL to perform
specific inspections above and beyond the inspections by the building
department itself.  Generally the building officials in No. Cal. recognize
certifications by ICBO and AWS.  This type of inspection is very
*specialized*. These inspectors only provide inspection for items identified
on the plans as requiring special inspection, most commonly the placement of
structural conc., struct. masonry, struct. welding, and installation of
adhesive or expansion anchors.  The typical special inspectors generally DO
NOT EVEN LOOK AT ANY OTHER ITEMS on the jobsite.  It's usually not within
the scope of their contract, nor within their range of knowledge.  If your
project has a lot of structural steel with HS bolting and welding, your
special inspector may end up being on your jobsite almost continually during
the steel erection phase, but this is not the same as observation, and will
not lessen the requirement for structural observation.  Special inspectors
must be "supervised" by a licensed engineer (ie, the special inspection
agency must have a licensed engineer at the helm), but these engineers
rarely make jobsite visits, and they often don't have much engineering
design experience.  (There are exceptions to that last statement).  

Structural observations must be provided by a licensed engineer or
architect.

There ARE some licensed engineers who are also ICBO certified inspectors (I
am one), and there is nothing in the UBC which states that your special
inspections and structural observations cannot be performed by the same
entity provided the entity has the qualifications for each type of work.
But an engineering license does not qualify an engineer to provide special
inspections, nor the other way around.

My feeling is that your structural observations could be comfortably
delegated to local licensed design engineer provided this engineer is not
given power to authorize any changes to your design, and that this engineer
has experience in designing the type of project that he is observing for
you.  

As for your question about when observations are *required*, I believe this
question can only be answered by the building official with authority over
your project.

Karen E. Casano, P.E.
Structural Engineering Associate
Division of the State Architect, San Diego Regional Office
(858)674-5420
(858)674-5471 fax
kcasano(--nospam--at)dgs.ca.gov