Bridge Inspection Engineers Are Superheroes

After talking to many Bridge Inspection Engineers, we were stunned by their diversity of skills and talents, that go far beyond the engineering world. To me, they are the closest thing to superheroes. They climb bridges like Spiderman, endure heat & cold like Superman, use the latest gadgets & technologies like Batman to ensure the public safety.

Our question was - where do you find these people and then how do you train them?

To answers these questions, Loren Dickens P.E., Project Manager at HNTB was here to save the day. Loren has more than 12 years of experience in the industry and before joining HNTB he was the Bridge Inspection Group Manager at Alfred Benesch. He explained that bridge inspections are what he was meant to do. Loren grew up playing in creeks and climbing trees and now gets paid to play in creeks and climb bridges! In addition to being a certified bridge inspection team leader, he also is SPRAT certified for rope access methods and a FAA-certified drone pilot.

What do you look for in a candidate?

According to Loren a Bridge Inspection Engineer should have some the following traits:

  • First and foremost-Attitude of safety-For the public, for co-workers, for themselves

  • Solid understanding of bridge mechanics

  • Open mind to new technologies

  • Not afraid of heights

  • Enjoys outdoor activities

  • Willingness to work in less-than-pleasant weather (Heat, humidity and cold are a part of the business.)

  • Self-starter (If your coworker needs a ladder, don’t just sit there and wait for them to ask for it!)

I asked Loren how they can assess If someone has no fear of heights and can endure extreme weather conditions. He said that they look at the candidate’s background - where did they grow up, what are their hobbies, do they like outdoor activities like climbing, hunting, fishing? In other words, those parts of the resume that we always assumed were the least impactful are actually very important!

Deal Breaker: Don’t ever take this job lightly and don’t have a nonchalance attitude towards it. You will be trusted to ensure the safety of the public! Bridge inspectors are the first line of defense against bridge catastrophes!

Who applies to become a bridge inspector?

Most candidates who apply have skills in various bridge domains such as analysis, load rating and design. Once they begin actual inspections, the studying they have been doing for years is put into practice.

Surprisingly, age does not play a major factor in hiring. Loren said, at his company, they employ bridge inspectors in their early 20s, 30s and all the way up to mid-seventies. And that’s not even the oldest Loren has seen in the industry. He once worked with an 80-year-old bridge inspector who is still in an amazing physical condition and was up on bucket trucks conducting an inspection. My dad is 68 years old; I can never imagine him doing these kinds of things.

What are the best recruitment methods?

According to Loren, networking has been the best source for meeting candidates, either via conferences & exhibitions or through common work with other engineering firms.

What kind of training is involved?

While all states have slightly different requirements, in order to become a bridge inspection team leader some combination of training and bridge experience is required. The most common training required is “Introduction to Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges” or “Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges for Professional Engineers” offered through the National Highway Institute (NHI). These classes discuss bridge inspection history, bridge mechanics and inspection techniques among several other topics. It focuses on teaching team leaders how to consistently assign condition rating values. For leading Fracture Critical Inspections, team leaders should also complete “Fracture Critical Inspection Techniques for Steel Bridges” also offered through the NHI. States also require a refresher training be completed at regular intervals, usually every 3 to 5 years.

To conclude, Bridge Inspection is not simply a job, it’s a mission. These people are on a mission to save lives. They put their lives at risk every day to ensure our safety. We can’t but be grateful to them.


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