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Test and Inspection Reports Catch 22

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I am having a hard time getting test and inspection reports sent to me in a
timely fashion. I need to improve my QA procedures, but I'm not sure what to
attack first.

First of all, I must state that the following examples represent my own
experiences with firms and individuals located here in Southern California
in addition to information provided to me during the course of my search for
Better ways of doing things.

According to two testing labs I have interviewed, both say they only give
reports to their client, the building official and anyone on a distribution
list provided by their client.

Usually, the client is the contractor. I know. It's not supposed to work
this way, but it does (quite often). The contractor is not usually my client
nor is the owner for that matter. Usually, I am hired by the architect. I
usually have very little contact with the owner or the contractor unless of
course something goes wrong and s/he needs a fix or if s/he has a cheaper
way of executing a portion of the approved design, but I digress.

Sure, I can put a note on my drawing. FWIW, I have plenty of notes on my
drawings already. I can put a note on my drawing with a box around it,
implying that it's an important note. My problem with that approach is that
it might imply that the other notes are not important.

Heretofore, I have not put a list of "approved" inspectors and testing labs
on my drawings. I am considering that approach now. But, if the entity
hiring the testing lab and/or the inspector hires someone else who may be
well qualified, what recourse do I have?

Of course, none of my problems have occurred on DSA projects or projects in
L.A. City where the control of the testing labs and deputy inspectors are
apparently tighter than in the outlying areas.

My quest is general in nature, but it is true I am just finishing up a
project that has gone really, really bad. The project consists of three
small (5,000 SF each) masonry commercial buildings. My client is the
architect who recently relocated out of state. The owner decided to do this
project "owner/builder" (the plans were approved that way and the building
official says that state law dictates that they cannot force a contractor on
an owner). The "project superintendent" is (very) part time. He's so part
time in fact that he's given the keys to the jobsite gate to the mason. The
job required high strength block (slender wall design) and high strength
grout. One of the preliminary sets of drawings did not have the required
block strength on the plans, but had the required strength of the grout
(fortunately). The mason bid (and built) from the preliminary sets. The
approved set had the block strength on the drawings. The "project
superintendent" claims that the approved drawings were delivered to the
jobsite before construction and was even printed on a different color of
paper so that they would stand out. He also claims that he gave specific
instruction to the mason that high strength block was required. Of course,
the mason disputes this and there is nothing in writing (that I'm aware of)
which reinforces the "project superintendent". Everyone probably knows how
the story goes. Two and a half buildings are built with 1,800 psi block
(instead of 3,750 psi block).

I'm sent pictures from the architect (who happened to be in town for a
weekend) who asked "what do you think?" when he sent the pictures to me. I
told him that it looked like "practice" if the tests and inspections aren't
satisfactory. Anyway, to make a much longer story shorter, we did prism
tests and they were satisfactory (thanks to the grout averaging 5,500 psi!)
and pretty good workmanship by the mason. It was like pulling teeth to get
reports. I finally sent a structural observation report to the building
official who, after reading it, shut the project down within two hours. Of
course the owner was mad at me and accused me of holding up construction
just so I could "get my paperwork in order". Sure, the inspector could have
/should have spotted the wrong block if he were checking for that. I could
have caught it earlier if I had received material specs early on. Heck, none
of this would have happened if I had been invited to a (non-existent)
pre-construction meeting. Still, I felt like I had little authority to make
sure the inspections were being done and that the materials used were
consistent with the design.

I'm now trying to go back and apply hindsight to my QA program, but I'm
still not certain what I could do that will change anything. Apparently
there is a big discrepancy in the quality of inspectors and I can't find the
right "gun" to put to someone's head to make sure I get the tests and
reports as they are created.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.


T. William (Bill) Allen, S.E. (CA #2607)	
Consulting Structural Engineers	
V (949) 248-8588	 .	 F (949) 209-2509	

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