Life-safety section added to Commercial SOP.

6.5.11 in

Unsafe: A condition in a readily accessible, installed system or component which is judged to be a significant risk of personal injury during normal, day-to-day use. The risk may be due to damage, deterioration, improper installation or a change in accepted residential construction standards.


That’s directly lifted from ASHI and the guys that wrote it there admit it was a mistake. Show me ANY stair which is not unsafe by this definition.

Actually, it’s lifted from InterNACHI’s residential SOP ASHI doesn’t have a commercial SOP. I wrote 6.5.11 of with some help from a fire marshall. An example of where a change in construction standards would all of a sudden make something unsafe would be missing GFCI’s near the kitchen sink. This would NOT be considered unsafe in 1965, but today it is. The only thing that changed is accepted standards over time.

Although has in its limitations stuff about an inspector not having to do anything unsafe, we should probably modify the unsafe definition to include inspector safety for components that aren’t readily accessible or related to normal, day-to-day use that are part of the inspection. Example. An an icy roof isn’t an unsafe condition to the occupant (the occupant doesn’t go on the roof) but is for the inspector. The definition is currently from the client’s perspective only.

Well that is a heck of a coincidence, but wherever it came from… :wink:

The problem is that the phrase “a significant risk of personal injury during normal, day-to-day use” is perfectly applicable to risks that are routinely accepted in either setting.

E.g., in residential:

  • Stairs
  • Decks & Balconies
  • Tubs & showers
  • Cooking appliances
  • Swimming pools
  • Fireplaces
  • Damn near anything using fuel gas
  • Any electrical condition outside the latest NEC.

My gawd, scan the technical topics and tally the suicidal conditions we see occupants jury-rig in houses ALL the time. And I know you know nobody can find them all. :shock:

In commercial settings the list of “unsafe” conditions would be practically infinite by that definition. Not even sure what “normal” would mean in a specialist commercial setting. Many businesses exist because they are willing to do dangerous stuff. How would I apply that criterion to a welding shop, a donut factory, a gun range, a go-kart track, a materials-handling warehouse, a chainsaw store, a propane distributor, a health club??

Read the life safety code (NFPA 101). The introduction lists basic information necessary to assess risk. Intended uses, unanticipated changes, occupant capabilities, oversight and supervision, education levels, access to emergency services, signage, yada. We have no access to most of that information. Knowing this, how can we logically invite direct responsibility for life safety?

I have seen a few rodeos and IMO “safety” is the marketing cry of naive hero fantasies in general and building officials in particular.

Well golly, building officials are completely indemnified.

Other people with hero fantasies are really attracted to HI, but generally don’t last long (but make life harder for those of us who do).

Personally, I believe we should simply stick to basic building condition and defect recognition. Even that will at least indirectly raise safety issues (GFCI is a good example), but using an SoP that dares a personal injury lawyer to debate “significant” and “normal” after little Johnny splits his skull is not something I want to do. At least not for pitiful inspection pesos…

You are definitely on the right track with limitations based on inspector safety though. That is one place that “other” group (sorry I am behind on the nicknames for Mallory’s crew) does make sense.

Nick, I realize you are catering to a huge number of opinions but I sincerely admire your willingness to discuss this fairly in public forums. THAT is unique. :smiley:

Russell in BubbaLand


Great Post Russell :slight_smile:

Wow, thanks. That’s high praise, from a guy with TEN green bars. :mrgreen:

Basically I got the greenies for humors mediocrity, and not technical savvy. I would have given you one but I am rather promiscuous with my supply and have shot todays wad. :smiley:

IMO, unless one has the specific technical training and one is being paid significantly to evaliate life/safety issues, the responsibility should be disclaimed from any commercial inspection criteria

As with ASHI, I don’t think that other little mini-association run by a for-profit company oddly owned by its own Executive Director has a commercial SOP either. But anyway…

You’ve melded 2 issues.

The first is life safety:

You, holding yourself out as a professional commercial inspector and charging your client accordingly, can’t just disclaim everything piecemeal. Keep disclaiming everything and you’ll make yourself purpose-less.

You are going to be expected to look at some basic safety issues (WHICH YOU ARE MORE THAN QUALIFIED TO DO) and you should also explain that you are not going to determine much more.

6.5.11 does this perfectly.

The second is the definition of “unsafe”.

We have 2 goals here:

  1. We want to do is to MAXIMIZE the commercial inspector’s ability to disclaim, limit, or refuse to do an inspection. We never want to be in a situation where InterNACHI’s own SOP is pressuring an inspector to do something unsafe.

  2. We want to MINIMIZE that which a commercial inspector is required to do to fulfill his responsibility (a responsibility he CAN’T SIMPLY DISCLAIM ENTIRELY) to report that which he deems to be unsafe for occupants or his client.

2.2 does this perfectly.

Law is not so mysterious. The best way for something to be held up as “reasonable” in a court of law is for it to actually be “reasonable.”

"Oh Judge, I realize that my cleint paid me, a professional commercial inspector, to inspect his building, and while there I noticed a few safety items that might harm my client, but I didn’t say much about them because that’s not my job, I disclaimed it. I also noticed that my client’s rest rooms aren’t very wheel chair accessible, but I didn’t mention that either because I’m not an ADA compliance officer. And I noticed a… "


The great thing about is that it is exactly what the client is willing to pay for (nobody wants to pay for a technically exhaustive, code compliance, ADA inspection)… AND… it is perfectly attainable from a fairly decent inspector.

Reasonable: Not everything, yet not nothing.

My point was their SoP has good examples of language to maximize the inspector’s ability to disclaim, limit, or refuse to do an inspection based on concerns about his/her own safety.

On this little topic the dichotomoy between residential and commercial is false. But since you raise it every post, what does the “H” in NACHI, NAHI and ASHI stand for?

(I still think you and Mallory make a cute couple. :stuck_out_tongue: )

That’s a platitude. I simply disclaim life safety and code compliance.

Like hell he can’t! It has been conventional practice forever. Most commercial buyers just want to know if they are looking at major mechanical or structural repairs. For free, if they can swing it. :roll:

And THAT gray line is exactly where the disputes arise. “Some and not much more” is arbitrary.

To answer with my own platitude, nothing is perfect.

In (B) I Look for the existence of fire alarm systems. After I have looked for them, do I report their presence or absence? Is that a deficiency? Many commercial occupancies are not required to have alarm systems.

(D) thru (H) are completely dependent upon the occupancy and the jurisdiction. A warehouse with tilt walls and metal roof used to store noncombustibles doesn’t require this stuff. In half the jurisdictions in Texas, restaurants of any size require sprinklers. In the other half they don’t.

(I) is assuming a retail or public assembly use.

(J) depends on the fire rating of the building type.

(K) Even if the doors are not required? What if doors are required, but not present? Combustible buildings used for automotive repair or tire storage have steel drop shutters. You really want me to operate them? How do I verify they “automatically” close without setting a fire?

(L) Look at the handrails but not the stair geometry? Maybe that is covered by (M). For public assembly, hospitals and nursing homes it’s all about egress width and refuge areas.

(N) Number (and width and free clearance, etc.) of fire exits is a big section in almost every occupancy category of building code. Two fire exits ain’t gonna cut it in a LOT of buildings (dormitory, nursing home, movie theatre, etc.).

§ is a great example of how arbitrary prescriptive life safety gets and how you have mixed usage with building condition. So all that stuff is fine, but there is a pallet of dynamite in front of the standpipe… :shock:

It’s definitely better than it was, although the exemplars simply detract from the basic definition. Less is more.

But if you have a “life safety” requirements section, then a general limitation that the inspector does not have to designate anything as hazardous or safe can’t be done. That’s FAR from perfect. Very, very far.

With commercial certs, CBO, PE and a fierce reputation I simply report (describe) what is actually there. X fire stairs, Y fire doors, Z extinguishers, it has sprinklers or it doesn’t. I provide enough information that an AHJ might make a determination with little footwork. That’s the best I can do.

Whether the AHJ will accept anything is the owner’s problem and that should be plainly stated. It’s just telling the truth. It can be a HUGE headache if the buyer plans to change occupancy (or the AHJ had burned toast for breakfast), but for purposes of building inspection I am only worried about big repairs and foreseeable replacements.

Don’t kid yourself, commercial is a VERY diverse designation and a very different market. These are capitalists, not consumers.

History tells us there are two basic options:

  1. Write your requirements specific to occupancy (exactly what building code does), OR

  2. Write an SoP so long and vague it can mean almost anything (exactly what ASTM did).

AND if you opine much on repairing a commercial building and get into trouble (by strolling onto AHJ turf, for example) you can get creamed. Specifying repairs to public or commercial buildings is an engineering act (in California and Texas anyway). Your limitations section does not change that. The fines are severe, they can seek criminal indictments and sympathy for unlicensed activity is rare.

Thanks again for facilitating this discussion.


Russell writes:

Our inspectors only observe and report. If we report to you that there is not a sprinkler system in a building we are not saying that you need a sprinkler system in that jursidiction. we are not saying that it is a deficiency. We are merely reporting the truth as we know it to our client. We don’t know, care, or report as to what is required by anyone else.

STOP! We don’t care what anyone requires of the building. We observe and report and the client does what he wants with the information. Different jurisdictions can demand what they like.

STOP! We don’t care what half the jurisdications in Texas require. We observe and report what we see, only. We don’t even know what the building will be used for by our client.

How is observing assuming anything? Now you stop!

You are getting silly now. Stop!

Required by whom? We are inspectors. We can’t require anything. I mean it now. Stop this silliness!

Stop, I’m asking nicely.

PERFECT example! That is something, that if you notice, you should report it to your client. Wether the AHJ, the fire marshall, an insurance company, or a building code prohibit it or not… is of no matter. Now stop bringing them up.



**Ahhhh, finally… thank you! Perfect. :smiley: **

Both options are horrible. DO NEITHER. Like you said… there used to be a gray line… and it caused disputes to arise.

EXACTLY! The gray line is now gone. The “some” is 6.5.11.I …and… the “not much more” is 6.5.11.II and 8.2 of No gray line, fewer disputes.

Oh, and as for the “H” thing, we use “InterNACHI” to dilute the “N” and “H”. We are in 43 countries and so are no longer just “national” and we do commercial and ancillary inspections and so are no longer just “home” inspectors. The American Society for Testing & Materials did the same as us. They are no longer only American, they are not a Society and they do no Testing… so they changed their officiall name legally to ASTM International

Induction is the only way to disprove order, sorry but that takes a lot of words.

So you’re telling me that 6.5.11 means ONLY descriptive reporting on the prescribed items. If so, then:

a) The list needs to be components only, not examples of defects.
b) We need a more confined definition of the word “inspect”.

Inspection: The process of an inspector collecting information through visual observation during a walk-through survey of the subject property, conducting research about the property, then generating a meaningful report about the condition of the property based on the observations made and research conducted by the inspector. A commercial inspection requires the inspector to make observations, conduct research, and report findings.

Generating a “meaningful” report is more than description. I’m perfectly comfortable being “meaningful” about a foundation or a roof or an air conditioner. But not when it comes to safety. People are idiots.

Lose the section or at least make it optional.

If we are emulating ASTM, can I be on a couple dozen “Technical Committees?” :roll:

Rewrite it and we’ll look at it. We simply can’t hold our heads up high, here at InterNACHI, or in court, and in good conscious say…

“I’m a commercial building inspector. I was hired by my client to inspect a building. During the inspection I noticed that the street address would be tough for a fire department to find, but I said nothing to my client about it and I noticed that there were no fire alarm systems, but I said nothing to my client about it, and I didn’t see any fire extinguishers, but I said nothing to my client about that either, and I noticed there were no sprinkler systems, but I kept quiet about that too, and I noticed that there were no emergency lighting systems, but my lips remained zipped, and I noticed a total lack of exit signs, but I said nothing again, and I noticed holes in the walls and ceilings that separate the exit stairwells from the rest of the building, but I thought to myself… let them burn, and I noticed there were no handrails anywhere and thought to myself… ah, who cares, and I noticed the exit doors were chained and locked and thought… too bad, I’m not saying a word about this one, let them all die! Even though much of this might be interesting to my client and even though all of this is easily within my abilities to note and report, I don’t have any duty to mention any of it because I disclaimed it all.”


We have a duty to at least report those safety issues that we see and 6.5.11.I is perfectly within our abilities to note.

Now whether or not the client finds this stuff useful or the AHJ has other ideas or that the fire extinguishers we notice are actually faulty because we can’t test them or that an insurance agent wants another fire wall installed or that the building code adopted in that particular town doesn’t require smoke detectors, or the tennant refuses to move his box of dynamite, or whatever… none of that is our concern. We observe and report. See 6.5.11.II.

"I’m a commercial building inspector. I was hired by my client to inspect a building. During the inspection I noticed that the entrance driveway was too small for a fire truck, but my SoP doesn’t say anything about it and then I noticed the fire hydrant has been capped but my SoP says I don’t have to note that and then I noticed that the alarm system was not being monitored, but my SoP doesn’t say anything about it… and I noticed there was a box of dynamite in the mechanical room, but my SoP says I don’t determine whether that is suitable and specifically disclaims stored combustibles, and then I noticed that there were no emergency lighting systems, so I wrote it up even though it’s a flashlight factory with a normal occupancy of four employees, and then I noticed the exit signs are only in one language, which my SoP does not address… so what the hell I reported this in spanish anyway… and then I noticed the door alarm sensors have all been by-passed, but my SoP specifically says I don’t inspect those… and I really did wonder if the the new offices in front are fire-rated but my SoP says I don’t have to do that… Then I noticed the exit doors swing inward, but my SoP doesn’t say anything about that… Then I noticed the fire escape was falling off the wall but my SoP says I don’t have to deal with those…

Even though some of this might be interesting to my client, I don’t have enough information or expertise to quantify these hazards. God forbid my client be misled to rely on my report as if a comprehensive analysis had been conducted. I have clearly disclaimed such items and spent my time, er, his money, documenting twenty roof leaks."

The issue is not whether 6.5.11.I is within our abilities. It is whether the resulting report is meaningful to the client and whether it protects the inspector from unnecessary liability. I submit that boiling life safety down to 16 items does neither. I got a half ton of fire/safety codes here but I comply with this half page and the building occupants are made safer in any meaningful way?


Make it optional and the client can decide how much they want to pay for it. It hugely inflates the cost to do this stuff in a defensible manner.

Russell, “Less is more”. Perfect.

Russell, I fought a similar battle a couple of months ago when iNACHI was developing the Accessibility Checklist. I was not able to develop my argument quite so eloquently as you and essentially lost that battle. My concern, at that time as well as now, was that a minimal checklist was developed that made sense in it’s own little world but when looked at from a wider perspective it was lacking. I know here and likely many other places that if I were to use that Accessibility Checklist, note deficiencies on it and then the client take some action on those deficiencies then that opens the client up to tremendous liabilities and other expenses. For instance, if I pointed out that the front entry door didn’t meet the width requirement and the client corrected that then it automatically requires him to meet all of the other the state mandated ADA requirements, i.e. restrooms, parking, egress, water fountains, etc, etc. I’m not sure that is clear to both the inspector (so he can address it in his Scope of Work) nor the client.

I’ve been on both sides of this issue and know exactly what you are talking about. I spent many years responsible for the construction and on-going operations of numerous hi-tech facilities. For me to now walk into and inspect a Group H-3, Type II-A facility to the iNACHI SOP would be a huge disservice to the client. I realize what iNACHI is trying to do and that is to develop an SOP that can be used to inspect the small commercial projects like a little strip center or a small, stand-alone building for use as a tire store or something but I’m not sure anyone has really looked at the IBC enough to understand the scope and breadth of it’s requirements. How to develop an SOP that is usable and protective of both the inspector and the commercial client will be a challenge. For complex projects I would look to someone like CH2M-Hill for advice. I will also say that I’ve not yet attended the iNACHI Commercial Course so my thoughts and comments may not be well founded.

Eloquently stated (as usual), Mike.

It’s just a matter of whether the document has utility. For purposes of inspecting building condition, it’s quite good. But dragging life safety into the scope makes the job a fool’s errand.


The accessibility checklist is really an excellent analogy. Thank you.

It can alert a client about such issues, it is not so exhaustive that it becomes unaffordable to perform, and it within an inspector’s ability to provide.

Same criteria as our safety section.

Excellent analogy.