NFPA Impact: Are remote inspections right for you?
November 2, 2020
By Shayne Mintz
As communities deal with the escalating impact of COVID-19, jurisdictions are determining how to continue critical building, life, and electrical safety functions while personnel are not present, buildings are (or have been) closed and/or access limited to reduce virus exposures. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers guidance on the concept of remote inspections (RI), an alternative to physical inspections. With social distancing requirements, this type of inspection may be a solution to achieving critical and emergency permit work that may still be in operation.
An RI uses technology to remotely facilitate such activities. These inspections should typically be associated with a jurisdiction’s permitting process and would need to be approved by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). RIs are not intended to be less complete or comprehensive than an on-site inspection. Rather, RI should be employed to achieve the same (or enhanced) results as an on-site inspection. For those interested in using RI, it is recommended that some of the following considerations be observed as a minimum. As RI is new to many, it is important to clarify and communicate four important tenets.
First, identify the types of inspections that a RI can address. Not all inspections will be suitable for a remote environment. Consider carefully the types of inspections you may choose to utilize. Second, determine if it is safe to use RI based on time of day, weather, job-site, and safety considerations. These important questions need be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Third, consider the administrative provisions for a remote inspection and how the RI request would be made and permission granted. Thought needs to be given to matters such as any special application processes, permit fees, and what other administrative items need to be considered. Once finalized, it is recommended that these provisions be made publicly available and transparent to all stakeholders. Finally, establish what a successful RI program looks like. Crafting examples of successful RIs will help set a climate for success.
Next, the selection of suitable technology is imperative. Authorities need to assess various types of technology. Most technology offers useful features but may also have specific requirements or limitations. There are many jurisdictions currently using smartphone and tablet video conferencing and drone technology. While these are commonly used platforms, consideration should be given to the approved technology. If using video technology, it’s important to have a steady hand or some type of tripod or support to ensure there is proper lighting.
Another ground rule is knowing and verifying where the inspection is taking place and where, at that address, the RI is being undertaken. This information is vital to accurately validate the RI has occurred at the correct address and location.
Also consider who will be participating in the RI. Is it the general manager for the overall structure, the subcontractor who installed a specific system, the building owner, or an approved third party? Having all parties clearly identify themselves and their roles ahead of time can reduce confusion. Additionally, if more than one party is on site for the RI, it may be beneficial for everyone to identify themselves when speaking.
During the actual inspection, it is important to engage in dialogue similar to what may be expected during an on-site inspection. A RI should allow all parties to communicate and explain what is being reviewed. Encourage discussions and create an environment where questions can be asked, and information provided when requested or at a suitable time after. It could be helpful to have the contractor or appropriate subcontractor available to answer questions about the project. Finally, once the inspection has concluded, communicate to all involved how the process will proceed, ensuring proper sign off or re-inspection instructions and deadlines are clearly conveyed.
To support code officials, enforcers, and inspectors, and their work to ensure fire and life safety, RI can provide an effective alternative for a building inspection program. NFPA has developed a number of resources. In 2019 the NFPA Standards Council approved the development of a new standard technical committee to address remote inspections. That standard titled NFPA 915 – Standard for Remote Inspections was released for public input in August. To view the draft standard and provide your input go to nfpa.org/915.
For more information, go to nfpa.org/RVI.
Shayne Mintz is the Canadian regional director for the NFPA and can be reached at Canada@nfpa.org or by phone at 705 812-2924.
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