By Terry Victor
This year’s National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Conference & Expo brought together industry experts from around the country to discuss the future of the fire and life safety industry. One discussion that drew significant interest focused how new digital integration enables remote job inspections, re-igniting a conversation about the need for remote inspections that started early in 2019.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic changed how many industries work on a day-to-day basis, it can be nearly impossible to shift how work is completed on a construction jobsite. For the most part, you need to be physically working on the projects required of you. But, for inspectors, is it necessary to conduct a full inspection on-site, or are other options becoming more viable?
With NFPA 915 – the proposed Standard for Remote Inspections – beginning to stir up more attention, it is time we start discussing what this standard would mean for jobsites if it’s approved.
Updated Administrative Processes And Timing
If implemented, NFPA 915 would include some minor administrative process changes. These would impact the following parties:
- The building owner or general contractor, who must be notified of the inspection
- The inspector, who authorizes the use of remote inspections while establishing the expectations for transmitting or recording the process and results
- The contractor performing the work to be inspected, who must be present to discuss what was done
- A possible third-party entity, who will transmit or record the remote inspection after aligning with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) on how the inspection should be administered
With this in mind, it’s important to note how long this process may take. This assessment is dependent on a couple different factors:
- If you’re the inspector performing a remote inspection, you’ll save time by eliminating the need to travel
- On the contrary to this process, on-site remote inspections may take more time for the parties transmitting or recording the inspection to ensure everything is as thorough as an in-person inspection
Technology And Equipment Utilized In Remote Inspections
As with most industries, remote inspections give the facilities industry a push to the digital future. This may sound potentially expensive and heavily technology-driven, but really, most remote inspections can be done with the tools most contractors already have on their person daily. These include:
- Video cameras
- Drones and robots, though these are a bit less common and more advanced
Additionally, NFPA 915 allows for the expansion of any other technology or new devices that may be developed and used in the future. As long as the end result is as good or better than an in-person inspection, the technology we use every day is enough to conduct a remote inspection.
Though most of these inspections will be conducted live through applications such as Zoom, Facetime, Microsoft Teams, etc., they can also be recorded, or archived for later use, if approved by the AHJ.
What To Keep In Mind With Remote Inspections
The benefits to implementing remote inspections should outweigh any of the difficulties teams may experience while onboarding or learning new processes. These benefits include:
- Easier process once everyone’s acclimated
- Time savings through limited travel
- A safer alternative to accessing hard-to-reach areas with the use of drones as well as limiting the time spent in confined or hazardous spaces
- Inclusive to inspectors who may have mobility or physical limitations
Taking the bad with the good, it’s important to note some challenges that may be faced with remote inspections. These include:
- Where complex systems are being used, remote inspections may not be ideal as these systems may require more detail than what a remote inspection could provide
- Whenever the inspection needs to take place in an area with low lighting or low connectivity
Whether you decide to try out remote inspections, or stick to the on-site, if NFPA 915 is passed, it could open a door to a digital shift that would change the way the next generation of contractors and inspectors work.
Victor, Senior Manager of Industry Relations at Johnson Controls Fire Protection has over 49 years of technical experience in the fire sprinkler industry. He serves on various industry boards and committees and is an active speaker at fire protection industry conferences and seminars including those for the AFAA, AFSA, ASCET, CFSI, FFLA, IMFA, NASFM, NFPA, and NFSA. He is a member of numerous NFPA technical committees and has been a member of the technical committee responsible for NFPA 915 since its inception in 2019. He received the NFPA Committee Service Award in 2015 and the NFSA Russell P. Fleming Technical Service Award in 2017.