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The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors
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So, You Want to Be a ... Boiler Inspector

Dec. 31, 2015
Responsibilities, physical demands, education and certification requirements, and more for boiler inspectors.
Credit: The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors

Editor’s note: This month, HPAC Engineering introduces “So, You Want to Be a ...,” a series of articles explaining responsibilities, physical demands, education and certification requirements, and more for different specialties within the HVACR/buildings industry. If there is a specialty you would like to see featured, please contact Executive Editor Scott Arnold at [email protected].

A boiler and pressure-vessel inspector is charged with ensuring pressure-retaining items (PRIs) are in safe and satisfactory operating condition. Chief inspectors enforce laws and rules and interface with boards or commissions, jurisdictional inspectors, and contractors.

Boiler and pressure-vessel inspectors can be employed by a jurisdiction (state or province), an accredited authorized inspection agency (boiler insurance company), a federal inspection agency, or an owner-user.

The physical demands of inspections vary according to PRI. Whether it be of a 12-story utility boiler or a 12-ft-diameter pressure vessel, an internal inspection is physically demanding; inspectors should be able to climb ladders, kneel, crawl, bend over, and reach for items.

The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors’ (National Board’s) Inservice Commission qualifies individuals to perform inservice inspections—that is, jurisdictionally required, periodic inspections of boilers and pressure vessels that are in operation. National Board Inservice Commission holders also are qualified to inspect repairs and alterations of pressure equipment as required by the National Board Inspection Code (NBIC).

Becoming a Commissioned Inspector

The National Board document NB-263, RCI-1, Rules for Commissioned Inspectors, outlines the education, experience, employment, and examination requirements an individual must meet to become a commissioned inspector.

NB-263, RCI-1 also describes the required duties of inservice inspector supervisors/technical managers, inservice commissioned inspectors, authorized inspector supervisors, and authorized inspectors. Additionally, it outlines requirements related to inspector diaries, the code of ethics, and complaints and due process and includes a glossary of industry terms.

NB-263, RCI-1 is available on the National Board website under the “Commissions & Certifications” tab. It is the resource for anyone wanting to learn more about becoming a commissioned inspector.

Prior to taking the National Board Inservice Commission Examination, students are encouraged to take the two-week Inservice Commission Course offered by the National Board. The first week covers NB-263, RCI-1; NB-410, Boiler Feedwater Guidelines; the NBIC; and sections of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. During the second week, student-centered workshops on both practical and design aspects of the code are provided. The National Board Inservice Commission Examination is administered on the final day of the course. For more information about this and other training classes, visit the National Board website, and click the “Training” tab.

Duties of an Inspector

Requirements for the inspection of PRIs can vary by jurisdiction. NB-370, The National Board Synopsis of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Laws, Rules and Regulations, is a compilation of prevailing requirements, contact information, and regulatory histories in a concise, easy-to-read format. This document is available on the National Board website under “Resources.”

Once a PRI is determined to meet general requirements, the initial installation inspection begins. This inspection is for items such as foundation, clearances to other equipment, and equipment-room requirements; source and discharge requirements related to fuel, feedwater, electricity, combustion air, and lighting; and operating systems, such as blowoff, condensate, controls, and pressure-relief devices. Inspectors should review operational test data of completed installations (required by the PRI manufacturer) and file a jurisdictional installation-inspection report. This first installation report is filed for the life of the PRI and can be reviewed before each subsequent inspection.

After installation, when a PRI is placed in operation, the jurisdiction establishes an inspection frequency, which can be anywhere from once every six months to once every three years.

This inservice inspection is performed through internal (if possible) and external examination of a PRI. The inspector should be able to identify various damage mechanisms, such as corrosion, chemical attack, creep, erosion, fatigue, fracture, and thermal aging, which usually are incremental, cumulative, and, in some instances, unrecoverable. The inspector documents the results of this inspection for the jurisdiction.

Occasionally, an inspector may be required by a repair organization to approve and inspect a repair or alteration to a PRI. Knowledge of the PRI’s original code of construction is required for the proposed repair or alteration to be accepted. To complete the inspection, the inspector uses his or her knowledge of design calculations, welding, heat treatment, nondestructive examination, and pressure testing. The repair or alteration then is certified by the repair organization and the inspector.

Is Boiler Inspection for You?

The employment market for boiler and pressure-vessel inspectors is stable. The industry is seeing more inspectors on the verge of retirement or who are advancing to more challenging PRI inspections, such as new construction and nuclear inservice. There continues to be a need for qualified candidates to fill the positions of those who have retired or advanced.

Boiler and pressure-vessel inspectors are self-disciplined, highly trained professionals who serve the public trust. For those who like to work independently and who show an interest in areas of welding, electrical wiring and controls, plumbing and piping, fire-safety procedures, and building codes and standards, boiler and pressure-vessel inspection is a career worth considering.

Did I like being a boiler inspector? Absolutely! Inspectors provide a public service. It was rewarding to know an inspection I conducted protected those in the vicinity of a PRI.

For more information about becoming a boiler and pressure-vessel inspector, visit www.nationalboard.org.

Senior staff engineer for The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, William Vallance has more than 40 years of experience in the boiler-and-pressure-vessel industry. For 26 years, he worked for the State of Michigan, the last three as chief boiler inspector. He also has held the positions of quality-control manager for a pressure-vessel manufacturer, authorized inspector for an authorized inspection agency, and boiler technician aboard a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser. He has served on the National Board Inspection Code subcommittee and subgroup for repairs/alterations.