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Is Construction Observation Important? I think it is!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Construction observation is one of the many services provided in the Construction Industry, but because it is not tangible, some may not appreciate the value of such a service, until the final product is evaluated. Construction observation (often mischaracterized as construction inspection) goes hand in hand with documentation, and is one of the most important components in the construction and contract administration of projects, whether providing construction services for States, Counties, Cities, Townships, Districts, Communities or local agencies.

I will never forget my first experience as a young construction inspector. I was mentored by an experienced professional engineer, about 20 years my senior, and was told on my first day on the job site, “if it is not observed, inspected and documented, it is considered not done, which can result in a change of your career plans.” In fact, a journal type hardback project diary, with entries written in ink, must be kept with supplemental documents for each project, which becomes a legal document if a litigious dispute arises by the contractor, engineer or the client. In my 20+ years as a Construction Observer/Inspector, I’ve learned to try to avoid being in such a situation by developing an ability to quickly solve problems on-site, reducing construction delays and unanticipated costs, and maintaining good client relationships.

Construction inspection requires not only technical and documentation training, knowledge of materials and procedures to ensure that work complies with required Ordinances, Permits and Regulations, and Plans and Specifications provided in contracts, but also requires sound judgment, good written and verbal communication, mutual understanding and diplomatic skills. It requires a keen sense of observation, a lot of common sense, and especially being proactive and paying attention to critical stages of inspection that can lead to potential problems:  for example, observation of underground work that once covered up, cannot be inspected. Being neat and artistic are assets in preparing sketches that are often necessary when trying to explain technical issues. A good sketch can replace thousands of words, especially when dealing with contractors and workers when there may be a language barrier. Also, proficiency in mathematics, especially algebra and trigonometry to calculate proportions, areas and volumes is essential.

Competent construction observation and inspection from start to completion of projects has a great impact on the final quality and reliability of the finished product.

The basic training and certification necessary for construction observation and inspection include:

  • Documentation of Contract Quantities Certification
  • American Concrete Institute (ACI) Certification
  • Mixture Aggregate, PCC (Portland Cement Concrete), and HMA (Hot Mix Asphalt) Technician Courses

Some additional useful certifications, or continuing studies and participating seminars include:

  • Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC)
  • Storm Water Management
  • Certified Floodplain Manager Certification (CFM)
  • Geotechnical Field testing and Inspection
  • Construction Management

Some experience, along with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering or a related Construction/Engineering discipline are desirable, but not required.

Construction observation and inspection is done on-site (‘in the field’) and, in today’s world of mobile devices with inspection software and real-time interconnectivity, the hands-on experience and daily real-world interacting with people (engineers, contractors and clients), help hone skills that develop strong leadership qualities.

Please share with me any of your unique construction observation experiences. I look forward to hearing from you.


Ken is a Vice-President and serves as Senior Construction Services Team Leader at REHCE.
He can be reached at