A lack of senior bridge inspectors in the UK could be causing a backlog in bridge assessments, engineers have warned.
There is a potential lack of new bridge inspectors entering the industry, a senior bridge inspector has said, and the industry needs to do more to recruit new engineers as career inspectors.
Devon County Council chief engineer for bridges and structures Kevin Dentith, told New Civil Engineer that councils are finding it increasingly hard to hire new bridge inspectors: “We are struggling to find qualified inspectors at senior level.
“Bridge inspectors used to be artisans, people who came into the industry off the tools, carpenters, masons, builders – people who were used to working on bridges – they are few and far between these days.”
A lack of bridge inspectors could be limiting local-authority’s efforts to maintain their bridges, he warned.
The RAC Foundation bridge condition survey has found a worrying trend in delays to safety inspections for council-maintained road bridges, with almost 3,500 in substandard condition.
Only one in 10 of the 3,500 are likely to be repaired in the next five years, the report has found.
Aecom associate for bridge investigations and surveys Lucy Moore said the private sector was also struggling in the search for senior bridge inspectors: “It can be a struggle to recruit and retain the right people for bridge inspection work. Part of the problem is that historically, this type of work is not seen as an area of expertise in its own right.
“Often, graduates will be required to carry out inspections as part of larger contracts but won’t specialise in bridge inspection as they progress their careers.”
The way to overcome a lack of senior level inspectors and budget restrictions, Dentith says, is to bring young people on board: “There are ways to overcome the challenge of losing bridge inspectors with experience and that is tapping into the apprenticeship levels.
“At the moment salaries might not be too great [for bridge inspectors] but would be very attractive to 18-20 year old. Once we get them into the role, we can develop them and move them up as a senior bridge inspector or another role in the department. I am convinced this is the way forward.”
Moore said that the role of bridge inspector isn’t always what people imagine it to be and that the industry needs to work on selling it as a career choice: “While most engineers will not think about pursuing their career in bridge inspection, it is both vital and interesting work.
“As a bridge inspector, I’ve crawled through deep underground culverts and abseiled down the side of a lighthouse – we visit the places and environments most people don’t know exist. Inspection work isn’t just about going out and at looking bridges, we investigate what’s wrong and problem-solve to fix issues and keep structures safe and fit for purpose. As an industry, we need to do more to promote bridge inspection as a rewarding career.”
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