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This article appeared in PCE Performance Coating Europe An Inspectors

View from the Field

Qualifications vs Experience
In this issue Lee Wilson debates the topic of qualification of coating inspectors and
asks the question what really counts, qualification or experience.
I am often asked by inspectors, and others in the field, which approval should be
taken to gain, not only employment, but to progress ones personal experience within
the industry ? My answer to this is always the same in regards to personal
professional development, and that is any or all of them! Lets face it there are many
organisations offering education and training such as the NACE Coating Inspection
Programme or CIP. However Inspectors also need to consider the other painting and
coating inspection certification providers out there such as SSPC, FROSIO, B-GAS
and the UKs Institute of corrosion or ICorr, all offering exceptional training,
examination and certification in protective coating inspection.
SSPC ( the Society for Protective Coatings) is an exceptional approval scheme
which runs a great number of inspection courses. The SSPC PCI programme is the
most predominant course available from SSPC and like many other approvals is built
upon a 3 tier certification programme of which the main objective is to
thoroughly train individuals in the proper methods of inspecting surface preparation
and installation of industrial and marine protective coatings and lining systems on an
array of industrial structures and facilities (SSPC Website Quote).
NACE CIP is delivered globally by NACE International who have been providing
certification and training for over 28 years
The NACE Coating Inspector Program has set the standard for inspections in the
protective coatings industry and is the worlds most recognized coating inspector
certification program. CIP is the first international certification program designed to
improve the overall quality of inspections performed, and it continues to provide the
most complete training curriculum, producing top-notch inspectors for the industry
(NACE Website Quote)
Frosio was established in 1986 in order to cope with demands for newbuild oil
installations which were being constructed for offshore Norway oil exploration and
production, and was introduced as a firewall between education and certification.
Frosio therefore do not deal with training, only examination and certification. The
actual training is provided by 3rd parties, for example the Hempels Paint Academy.
ICorr, FROSIO and B-Gas deal mainly with European and international standards
rather than the North American standards which are favoured by NACE and SSPC,
however NACE and SSPC training schemes cover both American and International
standards regardless of this, and with the exception of Frosio, they all have one thing

in common, they teach individuals how to inspect surface preparation and application
of protective coating systems. ICorr, SSPC , and the B-Gas approval schemes will,
in addition to teaching individuals how to carry out inspections and how to develop
their inspection techniques, help with personnel development. However the same
cannot be said at this moment in regards to employment, as there is clearly a
simplified for inspectors by clients, particularly in the oil and gas sectors. You just
have to check out any oil and gas recruitment site to see that the vast majority of the
oil majors are asking for NACE or Frosio qualifications in accordance with NS 476
certified inspectors.
Why is this I hear you say?
Well in my opinion its rather simple! NACE have marketed their approval not only of
inspectors on a global scale but have also ensured that the benefits of their Coating
Inspection Programme (CIP) are recognised by the industry. NACE and Frosio have
also gone as far as ensuring that their approval schemes and certification levels
have become incorporated into industry standards such as the Norsok M501 and the
IMO PSPC resolution.
For example section 10. 2. 5 of the Norsok standard M-501 clearly states that:
Personnel carrying out inspection or verification shall be qualified in accordance with
NS 476 Inspector Level III, or certified as NACE Coating Inspector level II.
This is clearly not a should but a shall and a clear standard requirement.
So where does this leave our colleagues who are certified by institutes such as
ICorr, SSPC and B-GAS ? Well its leaves them high and dry. Put simply if you are
not certified by NACE or Frosio then ultimately you are not in conformance with the
standard requirements which prompts owners and operators alike, who incorporate
this standard into their corrosion control projects, to employ only the NACE II or
Frosio approved Level III inspectors.
This is also very similar to the IMO MSC.215(82) Performance Standard for
Protective Coatings for sea water ballast tanks which was developed in order to
attempt to achieve a good tank coating for 15 years service. The IMO PSPC calls for
coating inspectors to be certified to NACE Coating Inspector Level 2, FROSIO
Inspector Level III or equivalent as verified by the Administration.
What does equivalent mean within the PSPC, does this include the SSPC, ICorr or
B-Gas inspector? Well even though the SSPC Protective coating inspector
certificate is recognised as an equivalent to NACE 2 and Frosio III, it is up to the
Administration, and this means the Classification Societies, to decide if these
qualifications are acceptable under the PSPC regulations. What has happened in
practice is that each Class Society has had to issue a type approval for each
qualification it accepts as being equivalent in terms of the regulation. This is the
route SSPC and ICorr have gone, but Im not aware of attempts to get the old B-

Gas certification approved. However, for simplicity, clients would rather have an
inspector who is qualified as specified. Its a simple concept! And due to this we see
well qualified and experienced individuals , some who have been in the industry for
many years and have vast ship building experience, who can no longer work in the
yards simply because they do not possess the relevant qualification to abide by the






1 White

2 Green

3 (Peer

3 Red

Approximate Equivalence in Certifications with those highlighted in red specified for

PSPC and Norsok M501
By having NACE and Frosio certification incorporated into these standards and by
promoting their approval schemes upon a global scale has ultimately led to a huge
industry demand for NACE and Frosio certified Inspectors. I am sure that this trend
of qualification and standard incorporation will continue as it is good to have a
minimum level of inspection certification specified. My only hope at present is that
the other approval schemes such as the Institute of corrosion (ICorr), SSPC and BGAS also push for incorporation into such standards, rather than relying on
equivalency, as they are, lets face it, letting their customers down.
ICorr is a truly remarkable inspection approval - an approval which is very difficult to
achieve. This is reflected by the number of ICorr level 3 certified inspectors. I
believe to date there are less than 50 Icorr level 3 certified inspectors globally.
However in the eyes of the above standards individuals possessing this qualification
are unable to carry out the inspection requirements of the above mentioned
standards regardless of their capabilities. Norsok M501 is one of the most widely
used painting standard certainly on the UKs continental shelf so as one can well
imagine a lot of good guys are losing out.
Returning to the question originally raised. There seems to be a huge debate raging
within the industry today in regards to suitable qualification for protective coating
inspection. Inspectors are regularly asking which inspection approval is the most
suitable qualification to obtain, not only for the technical knowledge needed for
inspection, but also to ensure the best possible chance of employment within the
industry (let us face facts, it is this last question which is ultimately what its all

Otaining an inspection approval is much like obtaining a driving licence, you can sit
the course and pass the examination but ultimately it is how you perform on the
roads which really counts. We are all well aware that despite having a driving licence
there are many good and bad drivers. The very same can be said about inspectors.
Having level 3 certification or specialist certification from any approval body does not
mean that you are a Formula 1 racing driver regardless of which approval body is
issuing certification. It is how you perform on the circuit which ultimately governs
whether you are a good inspector / driver or not, and this comes with not only
certification but also with a great deal of experience and of course professional
In my opinion it is however not the inspector nor driver in our road analogy who
suffers once they break the rules or dont perform in the field. It is the actual
inspection approval which suffers, you just have to look at the history of B-Gas
approval which was once regarded as the ultimate in inspection approval circles and
held with the upmost of integrity and regard. It is well believed that this approval was
mass marketed and ultimately became devalued across the industry.
Perhaps this is quite a strong statement. However this is clearly apparent by the
current industry demand. Do not get me wrong this was not because of the actual
technical content of the approval but because it was mass marketed. This resulted in
inexperienced inspectors i.e. guys who have the tickets but not the required
knowledge nor experience to use the certificate to its full advantage. (This is of
course is only my opinion and we all know what opinions are like) but to prove my
point on this topic how often do you now see requirements for certified B-Gas
inspectors? As we all know its rare compared to 10 / 15 years ago when almost all
inspectors held a level of B-Gas CSWIP certification.
And who suffers ? Everyone who possesses that qualification!
Its a shame because it was and is a real good inspection certification however it is a
victim of its own creation. One of the main questions now being asked by inspectors
within the protective coating inspection industry today is:
Is this now being repeated?.
My problem is at present I really cant answer this. For example the qualification
route for NACE, if adhered to in regards to the required experience for each
individual level before certification is issued, really is a truly remarkable technical
qualification The entry requirements for Frosio are even better. I believe it is this
point which is most important and firmly believe that there should be far greater
emphasis on monitoring individual field experience prior to entering further level
training and examination.
I believe NACE are simply answering the demand for certification coming from the
industry. It is ultimately the clients who dictate which approval their inspector should

possess and at what level. Currently NACE is in favour, so the industry responds.
We have to remember that NACE have been running for over 28 years with over
30,000 inspectors globally and I am sure there are some bad apples amongst this
figure but the same can be said about any of the other approval bodies.
Simply put, certification societies cant be responsible for individual integrity but they
are however fully responsible for ensuring that the inspectors who wish to progress
through their certification levels have the desired experience to qualify for entry this is where I believe the mistakes are made.


Experience Required


No Experience Required


2 Years


5 Years

I would also say that if you break the driving rules (again using our driving analogy)
you get your licence taken away and become in effect banned from driving. Should
the same principles not exist for inspectors who do not abide by the rules of the
inspection bodies code of ethics?
My answer to this is absolutely, yes!
This brings us to the other question which I am regularly asked and which is
regularly debated between Inspectors, contractors and employers i.e. what really
counts qualification or experience?
Well in my opinion I think this is quite simple and reflected by most of the approval
schemes. I strongly believe that both attributes are just as important as each other
and both are absolutely essential for the coating inspector, hence the essential need
for a level of experience for certification entry - a requirement which is incorporated
into many of the approval schemes.
Ultimately you can have all the qualifications in the world however if you do not have
practical experience of how to use this learned knowledge the results can be and
often are catastrophic.
It is no great secret that there are many highly certified inspectors without field
experience who are masquerading as protective coating specialists however this is
not something which can be blamed upon the approval schemes, the blame here lies
firmly with the owners and operators whom employ individuals primarily due to the
fact that they possesses a certificate.
Fortunately this can be rectified.

Owners and operators need to ensure that the inspectors that they are recruiting are
capable of doing the job! A certificate does not always ensure this. They also need
to determine the individuals integrity, usually the inspector is only as good as there
last job, so a potential employer does not really have to look too far.
A simple background check of the candidates CV and work history as well as a
reference checks and a face to face or telephone interview should always be carried
out as a minimum by clients looking to recruit. Do not employ inspectors just
because they have the ticket! Experience and professional integrity are just as vital.