Published 27 Jan 2023
What is a Bridge Inspection?
A bridge inspection is a formal assessment performed by civil engineers and licensed inspectors to appraise a bridge’s working condition. The primary purpose of a bridge inspection is to identify damage, wear, and other deviations so the necessary repair and maintenance work can be performed.
Civil engineers and licensed bridge inspectors can use this checklist when performing routine bridge inspections and check for the following:
- Take pictures of the bridge’s upstream face, downstream face, northwest approach, and southeast approach to check for signs of damage and deterioration
- Check bridge railings, and transitions to ensure stability and good condition
- Inspect the deck’s joint, drain, rail, and sidewalk condition
- Check superstructure, substructure, and abutments
In this article
- What is a Bridge Inspection Checklist?
- The Importance of Bridge Inspections
- Types of Bridge Inspections
- Keep Bridges Safe for Public Use With Every Inspection
- How Bridge Inspections are Better with Digital Checklists
- Bridge Inspection Software: How It Addresses the Challenges of Bridge Inspectors
- Featured Bridge Inspection Templates
What is a Bridge Inspection Checklist?
A bridge inspection checklist is a document used by licensed inspectors when performing bridge inspections. It serves as a guide to ensure that all aspects of the bridge inspection are performed completely, and as a recording tool to document the inspector’s findings, observations, and recommendations. A typical bridge inspection checklist is manually filled out via pen-and-paper as the engineer performs the inspection.
The Importance of Bridge Inspections
Bridges all over the world are used by millions of people on a daily basis. Numerous industries, especially those that rely heavily on logistics, benefit from the convenience of having bridges.
Most bridges have been around for a very long time, weathering the impact of the natural environment including storms, earthquakes, and hurricanes over their years of service. No matter how durable a bridge may be, it is not exempt from damage and natural wear e.g. leaks. Foregoing bridge inspections means missing critical warning signs which could lead to structural failure, putting the public at risk of high-fatality disasters.
Diligent bridge inspections also help local governments save money. Preventive maintenance is generally less expensive compared to repairs, and timely bridge inspections help engineers spot minor structural issues and resolve them before they turn into high-cost, high-risk problems.
The information gathered from bridge inspections also informs future repair, maintenance, and bridge construction. Having the necessary documentation on a bridge’s performance including tendencies, common causes of damage and deterioration, and residual life expectancy, allows civil engineers to optimize maintenance efforts and build more durable bridges.
Types of Bridge Inspections
Bridges go through different types of inspections depending on their age, condition, and special circumstances such as possible structural damage after a natural catastrophe. Each inspection type is designed to contribute to bridge safety and stability in different aspects of its operation.
Below are the different types of bridge inspections conducted by civil engineers and licensed bridge inspectors:
- Initial inspection
The initial inspection is the very first bridge inspection conducted on newly constructed and recently rehabilitated bridges. The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) recommends that initial inspections are done before a bridge is opened to the public. The primary purpose of the initial inspection is to take a structural inventory of the bridge to establish its standard condition, and to take note of different parts and areas that may need close monitoring for maintenance purposes.
- Routine inspection
The most common type of bridge inspection conducted is the Routine Inspection. This type of inspection is performed to assess the general working condition of a bridge and to identify opportunities for repair and maintenance work. The US Department of Transportation recommends that routine inspections be performed every 2 years. Upon approval, however, newly constructed or rehabilitated bridges may be allowed for less frequent routine inspections.
- In-depth inspection
An in-depth inspection is typically performed by two or more licensed bridge inspectors who check on the infrastructure both above and below sea level. An in-depth inspection aims to identify any structural deficiencies, signs of deterioration, and damage that may cause partial or complete structural collapse. In-depth inspections are performed when routine inspection procedures are deemed inadequate to identify more elusive structural issues.
- Emergency inspection
An emergency inspection sometimes called a Damage Inspection, is immediately performed following a natural calamity, accident, or human error that may negatively affect a bridge’s functionality and structural integrity. The bridge is usually closed from public access while emergency inspections are being conducted to avoid safety hazards.
- Special inspection
A special inspection is conducted when there is a known or suspected deficiency in need of consistent monitoring while awaiting repairs.
Keep Bridges Safe for Public Use With Every Inspection
Bridges are among the most valuable infrastructures in the world. They allow safe passage where it was previously strenuous or not possible. As it helps enable transportation between distant shores, it has also become a key driver of economic activity. It intensifies trade by allowing people to travel so they can purchase goods and services in other communities and beyond.
Bridges, however, like all other structures, decline with time. They gradually deteriorate due to traffic volume and calamities such as earthquakes. As bridges age, they require regular monitoring and routine maintenance management. The lack of which can cause bridges to deteriorate quicker, which can lead to prolonged closure or irreparable damage. When a bridge closes, it significantly impacts the economic activity it enhanced when it was first built.
This is why bridge inspections are crucial in the maintenance of these complex structures. These routine checks provide comprehensive evaluations of bridges’ structural integrity. It serves as a proactive mechanism to identify and address findings (e.g., cracks, corrosion, spalling) before they cause major damage.
How Bridge Inspections are Better with Digital Checklists
As civil engineers and licensed bridge inspectors perform bridge inspections, they usually record their findings and recommendations on a paper bridge inspection checklist. Though paper checklists are still the norm for many inspectors, the emergence of the digital checklist introduced a number of benefits that help streamline the overall bridge inspection process in ways unavailable through manual pen-and-paper means.
Below are some of the reasons why bridge inspections are better with digital checklists:
- Automatic and centralized recordkeeping
Inspections completed via paper forms would require manual data entry to be recorded onto a database. Paper documents are susceptible to loss, damage, and unauthorized access. Digital checklists can automatically save and upload inspection data onto a central database for efficient documentation and easy access.
- Easily customizable forms
Paper inspection forms are costly to print and a hassle to update. Once your team decides to switch over to an updated version of your bridge inspection form, unused forms in the outdated format would have to be discarded and reams of new paper forms would have to be manually distributed. A digital checklist app or software lets bridge inspectors update digital inspection checklists and roll it out to the rest of the team through the app to ensure that all inspectors are using the same updated form.
- Efficient inspections
In some instances, bridge inspectors would have to take pictures of structural damage and signs of deterioration to make reports more comprehensive. Using a paper bridge inspection checklist would mean having to bring a dedicated camera along with the paper checklist. A digital bridge inspection checklist provides bridge inspectors with the convenience of taking photos through the app mid-inspection for a more comprehensive report done in less time.
Bridge Inspection Software: How It Addresses the Challenges of Bridge Inspectors
Certified Inspectors from bridge inspection companies have begun to leverage the benefits of technology to improve the way they conduct inspections. With the aid of bridge inspection software, they have been able to transform their inspection program and eliminate the pains of doing pen-and-paper inspections. From FHWA documentation compliance to improved bridge asset management, here are some ways inspection software have helped bridge safety professionals:
Simpler and More Efficient Inspections
In the US, the FHWA implements the maintenance, inspection, and repair of the hundreds of thousands of public bridges located across the country through the National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS); in 2016, the official public bridge count was around 600,000. Of those, almost 40 percent are 50 or more years old.
With that amount of bridges requiring regular upkeep across America, immense effort is needed by the limited number of bridge safety professionals to perform the necessary inspections.
With a bridge inspection software, managing safety inspections is easier due to automation. US bridge inspectors were able to let technology handle the back-office tasks and eliminate the risks of human error, such as mistranscription, illegible handwriting, and lost or destroyed records. Further, consistency between bridge inspections was improved as the inspectors’ checklists are instantly updated once the central template was refurbished by the administrator.
Another disadvantage with pencil-and-paper bridge inspections is that it requires an extensive amount of time and effort to organize all observations, notes, and photos before an initial report is produced.
As there is a need to strictly adhere to the 90-day bridge inventory data entry period, it is vital to have a tool that can help produce reports more efficiently. With electronic data collection and workflow automation via the bridge inspection software, inspectors can immediately have reports ready the moment they complete their inspections. These reports are immediately available through the software in PDF form or via a weblink. By using a bridge inspection app, they’re able to produce reports faster, comply with the reporting inspection requirements, and gain more time to focus on solving problems.
Strengthened Compliance with FHWA Recordkeeping Requirements
On top of having quicker reports, bridge inspectors and technicians on the field also won’t have to worry about recordkeeping as the bridge inspection app takes care of inspection data via cloud storage. By having data stored in the cloud, it is easier to protect crucial bridge information and help the next generation of bridge inspectors maintain the integrity of these complex structures
Better Data Management
When it comes to bridge inspection and maintenance, a strong foundation for data management is vital. An inspection software helps provide a structured system of transforming inspection data into insightful information. They no longer need to dig through paperwork to find information on a bridge inspection from years ago. The tool helps them easily assess maintenance frequency or repair requirements and improve overall decision-making.
They are critical when it comes to ensuring an infrastructure’s safety and functionality. Manually gathering data using a paper form is time-consuming, inefficient, and costly. By using SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor), bridge inspectors can take advantage of the following features to take their inspection process to the next level:
- Download ready-to-use inspection templates for free through our public library, convert your paper form to our digital format with a smart scan, or build your digital template from scratch using our drag-and-drop smart form maker.
- Take photos and annotate them mid-inspection for documentation and evidence.
- Schedule inspections and assign actions to personnel through the app and monitor their progress via the web dashboard.
- Automatically save inspection data via unlimited cloud storage.
- Automatically generate inspection reports upon completing an inspection and share with relevant personnel for faster and more efficient data-sharing.
Featured Bridge Inspection Templates
A maintenance work order template is a tool used to outline maintenance order or requests. This template can be used by mechanic and service repair businesses to process client orders and record essential information to complete the work. A maintenance work order template can serve as a guide to what materials, resources and cost involved for the task.
Civil engineers can use this bridge construction checklist to verify if daily safety and pre-task planning has been completed, if emergency plans are being implemented, and if new employees are adequately oriented before starting construction work.