By Danny Gierhart, P.E.
I vividly recall my first day as an inspector for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) back in 1985, just days after being hired fresh out of college. I was given a vehicle and a spec book and told the location of the project on which I would serve as the ODOT inspector.
I didn’t have a mentor with me. I was on my own with the contractor’s crew at the job site. The feeling of having a lot of responsibility, but no training or understanding of what was going on was absolutely overwhelming. I would have dearly loved something like the Asphalt Institute’s Pavement Inspector Certification (PIC) course to orient me to the work and give me a sense of what to do before I was placed in that position. It’s so much easier to do a job if you understand the big picture.
The idea for an asphalt inspector web-based training course has been coming for quite some time. Back in 2008, I put together a 2-day curriculum for Oklahoma’s Asphalt Inspector Training course, which I still teach in person at least once per year. The two days of training include general information, much like what is included in PIC, and a review of the pertinent sections of the Oklahoma DOT spec book for asphalt inspection and construction. However, I have always felt the need for inspector training was much more widespread than just in my home state. I think PIC training is also very important for agencies such as cities and counties, who often don’t have access to the level of training available at DOTs.
As the Asphalt Institute staff put their heads together during the development of a universal PIC course, we knew it had to be something online and on-demand. It had to be online because we couldn’t physically go to all the places in need of inspector training. And even if we could go to a lot of places, the visits would have to be very infrequent because there are so many agencies out there with inspection staff that could benefit from the training. Even if we limited onsite training to just the United States, it would still be unmanageable.
And because organizations are constantly hiring, and need opportunities to train their inspector personnel regularly, we knew the course would only meet industry needs if it could be 100 percent web-based and on-demand. This training delivery method has the added benefit of allowing busy inspectors to proceed through the material at their own pace.
Next, we thought of the topics inspectors would need to understand to do their job well.
• What are my responsibilities as an inspector?
• What do I need to understand about the materials used in asphalt construction?
• What do I need to understand about the asphalt production and construction process?
• What do I need to understand about quality assurance for asphalt pavements?
I believe the eight modules of roughly 14 hours of online training answer these questions for both new and experienced inspectors.
Answering the questions
The first question is addressed in Module 1, “Asphalt Inspector Responsibilities.” Because of the nature of PIC, this module discusses the general tasks and responsibilities of an inspector. There are a surprising number of duties common to all asphalt project inspectors, so this module is quite useful even if it can’t delve into the specific requirements of each and every organization.
The second question is addressed in Modules 2 and 3, “Materials” and “Asphalt Mixes and Mix Design.” These modules are not intended to teach inspectors how to be asphalt lab personnel or mix designers, but they instead focus on what an inspector needs to know about these important topics. There are many details an inspector needs to understand about aggregate and asphalt material quality and the associated terminology to properly inspect the work and communicate with other industry workers.
Addressing the third question comprises about eight hours of the training material, which is accomplished in Modules 4 through 7: “Mix Production,” “Transportation, Preparing for Paving and Tack Coats,” “Placement,” and “Compaction.” The bulk of the training is carried out in these four modules because inspectors will typically spend most of their time overseeing efforts in these areas. As I think back to my own time as an inspector, understanding these four topic areas would not only have increased my comfort level with the responsibility of inspecting, but also raised my competence level.
Finally, the fourth question is addressed in Module 8, “Quality Assurance.” This is such an important topic for the inspector because it discusses quality control plans, sampling and testing methods, quality details in the plant production, placement and compaction operations and acceptance testing and criteria. Inaction by an inspector in this area can take years away from the pavement’s longevity. Extra years of pavement life can be added if an inspector actively enforces best practices.
By the book
The team also addressed another important need for inspectors, which is access to a good reference manual. AI’s MS-22, “Construction of Quality Asphalt Pavements” manual is the course textbook on which all but the first module is based, and is included in the registration fee. From my own experience, sometimes the verbiage in the specifications was not enough to understand an issue, but a good reference manual always helped me understand the issue better.
From an owner’s perspective, the course is an ideal solution to inspector training needs. Billions of dollars are spent on pavements each year and owner agencies should want to get the most for their money. Inspector understanding is tested in online examinations, one for each module. These must be passed with a score of at least 80 percent for the inspector to move on to the next module (retests are available). This should give agencies a level of confidence that their inspection staff is both competent and effective.
The PIC course has been online long enough to get some excellent feedback. Evaluation responses from initial registrants indicate that many agencies are tending to have their senior inspectors take the course first to assess whether or not it would be of value to the agency. The answer has been a resounding “yes!”
About 97 percent of responses over the six months PIC has been online having indicated that they found the course content sufficient to prepare inspectors to do their job. One of the survey respondents with limited experience said of PIC “very informative on all aspects of the industry. Makes me feel more confident on the fieldwork and areas to be cautious and aware.”
PIC offers 16 professional development hours (PDH) for the total course, each PDH amount commensurate with the time it takes to go through the module and take the exam. Agencies also have the option of signing up for just one or two of the eight modules for a lower fee. Inspectors who successfully complete the training and pass all the exams earn a final document showing that they are an “Asphalt Institute Certified Pavement Inspector.”
The course is not only for agencies of any size, but it also helps contractors, consultants and suppliers get “the big picture” of asphalt materials, production, construction and testing.
I hope to see many agencies around the globe begin using PIC as their standard inspector training and orientation course. The confidence that comes with understanding will result in better quality, longer-lasting asphalt pavements.
Gierhart is an Asphalt Institute Senior Regional Engineer based in Oklahoma.