by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard
Inspectors should always bring with them gear that can help prevent hazardous situations inherent in inspections.
Ironically, the process of inspecting for safety defects can itself compromise the safety of inspectors and their clients. InterNACHI Inspectors can use the following types of equipment to help ensure that inspections proceed problem-free.
- Coveralls: Coveralls are made from a variety of materials, often canvas or Tyvek®, a tear-resistant, flexible plastic widely used to make items such as postal mailers, banknotes and even DVDs. While canvas is puncture-resistant, Tyvek® is disposable and lightweight, as well as anti-static, breathable and chemical-resistant. However, it should not be used near heat or open flames. Both canvas and Tyvek® provide effective barriers against splashes, asbestos, chemicals, lead dust, and other harmful substances.
- Flashlights: Inspectors should bring at least two flashlights with them before entering dimly lit attics and crawlspaces. This precaution will eliminate the possibility that one flashlight will lose power, forcing the inspector to feel his way back out. The multitude of dangerous elements that potentially lie in attics and crawlspaces is startling -- from exposed nails and broken glass, to dangerous reptiles, insects and mammals. No one should ever enter these areas without a flashlight.
- Goggles: Goggles can protect against many types of harmful airborne substances, such as mold spores and sawdust. Inspectors should be sure to wear goggles or some other type of eye protection while inspecting electrical panels, which can emit dangerous sparks or arcs.
- Roof equipment: Inspectors who must walk on rooftops (especially those who perform roof, wind and hail inspections) regularly risk fall-related injuries. Some equipment that can keep them from stumbling off a roof are:
- roof shoes: Shoes form the only constant point of contact between the inspector and the roof, and the bond between them needs to be firm. Some companies make shoes that are specially designed for roof work, but these are not always necessary. Whatever type of shoes inspectors decide to wear, they should be flat and have high-traction rubber soles. Footwear with heels can become caught on roof surfaces, potentially causing the inspector to trip and fall;
- ladder tie-offs: Inspectors should bring with them straps to use to attach their ladders to the roof or structure. This attachment will help prevent the ladder from being blown away by a strong wind, embarrassing the marooned inspector. Also, a ladder tie-off can potentially prevent the ladder from slipping away from the building beneath the weight of the climber.
- personal tie-off: Inspectors may want to attach themselves to the roof as an added security measure. A few notes about this procedure:
- Some roofs do not allow for the implementation of this safety measure. Roofs must have a protruding, sturdy, accessible place as a connection point, such as a chimney.
- The strap must have as little slack as possible. Rolling down 15 feet of steep roof and then plunging another 10 feet before being halted in mid-air is still going to hurt. Plus, the dangling inspector will need to somehow climb back up.
- It is best to attach the strap to a harness designed for that purpose, rather than a tool belt or limb.
- It is dangerous to tie the strap to a car on the other side of the house. While the car might hold the inspector in place during a fall, it would not hold the inspector in place if someone were to drive the car away. A riding lawnmower is also a poor choice for an anchor.
- Gloves: Rubber or leather gloves are important for inspecting electrical panels to reduce the chance of accidental shock. Also, they should be worn in crawlspaces and basements. A certain amount of crawling on all fours through these areas will be necessary during inspections, and gloves will certainly make this activity safer. Gloves should not be loose.
- Respirators: Respirators are necessary safety equipment for inspectors. Choices include a full-face respirator, which covers the eyes, nose and mouth, and a half-face respirator. Full-face respirators may provide greater protection against certain toxins because they protect the mucous membranes around the eyes, but they are generally less comfortable. Wearers may find that the mask’s air filtration makes it hard to breathe, especially when the inspector must crawl and bend using physical movements that may restrict breathing. Respirators that have HEPA filters are excellent personal protective equipment since, by definition, they trap at least 99.97% of small particles.
- Road cones: Inspectors may want to consider placing road cones some distance behind their vehicles to prevent others from parking too close behind. Large, unwieldy items such as ladders are more safely removed when there is ample room in which to maneuver. Nothing causes tension like a Realtor who gets knocked in the head after parking snugly behind the inspector’s truck. Also, as universal symbols of caution, road cones will alert passing motorists and pedestrians of the need to maintain a safe distance.
- "Danger" signs: A sign can be placed near dangerous areas in which the inspector is working to warn clients and others of potential hazards. In 2008, an inspector in Seattle was sued because his client fell through an opening in a floor leading to a crawlspace that he was inspecting, and the client broke his arm in three places. The lawsuit alleges that the inspector was guilty of “negligence and misconduct” because he failed to notify the client of the potential hazard.
To avoid such liability and to ensure the safety of all persons present at an inspection, InterNACHI has created compact, lightweight "STOP -- Inspector at Work" signs for inspectors to use at job sites. These signs are specifically designed to be placed on ladders and near crawlspace entrances that are being inspected. Made of strong, durable plastic, they fold up flat and fit securely over the rung of the inspector's ladder. Using them may also provide legal leverage for inspectors who are held responsible for harm inflicted to their clients during an inspection.