What is a Steel Inspection?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2020
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A steel inspection is a type of materials inspection which involves the inspection of steel to confirm that it is appropriate for a task. Steel inspection can be carried out in a lab and on the site of a steel construction project, and in some cases may need to be performed in both locations. Steel inspection includes inspection of structural steel used in construction, inspection of steel components of machinery, and inspection of specialty products such as surgical steel.

Whether someone is inspecting an I-beam or a scalpel, the goal is safety. The inspector wants to make sure that the steel is as advertised, and that it is appropriate for the task. Investigation techniques used in the lab can include spectroscopy to determine the components of a sample, radiography to look inside the steel, liquid penetrant inspection, and stress testing. Stress testing may involve pushing the steel to the point of fatigue to find out when and why the steel fails.

On site steel inspection includes a physical verification of steel components and welds, along with an inspection of handling practices. A steel inspector may identify problems with the welds which need to be addressed or repaired, or problems with the way the steel is being handled which may make it unsafe or endanger workers. The inspector checks for obvious problems like cracking, bowing, and signs of metal fatigue so that these problems can be addressed before the structure is finished.


Independent agencies all over the world provide steel inspection services, and inspections may also be carried out by government representatives. On a project such as a bridge, for example, the government will inspect the product to confirm that it is safe. If a company fails a steel inspection, it will be expected to address the cause of the failure. In some cases, companies may be liable for fines, as when a company claims to be selling nonreactive surgical steel and the inspection shows that the steel contains impurities.

Steel inspection can be controversial, especially with major projects. Unscrupulous companies have been accused of bribing inspectors, swapping samples, or falsifying results so that they can continue using inferior steel products which have put people at risk. In other instances, inspectors and inspectees have clashed over inspection findings, especially when those findings have costly implications such as the need to replace, recall, redo, or repair something, whether it's a bridge or a suite of surgical tools.


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