Tag: SPRAT Certification

From Desk to Harness: The SPRAT Certification Process for Bridge Inspection

Ben Schorn hanging underneath a bridge after earning his SPRAT Certification for Bridge Inspections

In 2021, I became a SPRAT-certified bridge inspector to enhance and expand my skills as a bridge engineer. The certification process was short but intense, and I’ll be using the skills I learned from this training throughout my career.

The Certification Process

The SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians) certification training was administered over the course of one week in which students were taught both behind a desk and in hands-on application. Critical information and theory in the classroom and physical rope access methods and techniques in the training facility. There was a diverse group of students in the class which varied from professional engineers to tradespeople.

Why I Got Certified

I wanted to become SPRAT certified because it seemed like a great opportunity to combine my passion for learning new skills (both physical and intellectual) with my thrill-seeking personality. I love being a student, regardless of the setting, so when I was offered this opportunity from Hoyle Tanner to take this course, I hopped on it immediately.

Training on Location

The certification course took place in a training facility in Oakland, New Jersey, which is about five hours from the Burlington, Vermont office where I work. The facility is basically a warehouse comprised of multiple stations varying in size and complexity meant to mimic common in-the-field scenarios where SPRAT skills would be used. There was also an air-conditioned classroom within the warehouse where we sat for lectures and took our written exams. Structural Engineer Katie Welch and I took this course in the middle of July so the warehouse was extremely hot (especially with full face-coverings while climbing).

Physical Intensity & Duration

Even though some of my coworkers who were already SPRAT certified gave me some insight to the physical intensity of the training, I was not prepared for the constant fatigue the training would subject us to. We spent many days practicing specific rope access techniques and procedures repeatedly, which to me was the most intense five consecutive days of exercise I’ve encountered in a very long time (that is, until I applied these skills while inspecting the Augusta Memorial Bridge in October 2021).

The course consisted of four days of instruction and one day of evaluation. At the end, everyone in our class received their SPRAT certifications and we were all very proud of one another for overcoming the physical and mental challenges the course put us through.

Engineering After Certification

Following the SPRAT training, I attended a two-week course in Chicago at the end of August which granted me a NBIS (National Bridge Inspection Standards) certification. These two certifications often coincide with one another, as the SPRAT certification is required to physically climb a structure and the NBIS certification is required to inspect/document deficiencies on a structure. With these trainings under my belt, I was able to properly participate in the inspection of the Augusta Memorial Bridge for MaineDOT at the beginning of October along with my colleagues Ed Weingartner, Joe Ripley, Katie Welch and Brian Nichols. It was very rewarding putting my skills to use and working together as a team to get this inspection done thoroughly and efficiently.

Is it Worth it?

The training required to receive a SPRAT certification is certainly a rigorous one, but it’s extremely rewarding overcoming the challenge. I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in pushing their limits and learning new hands-on skills. I very much enjoyed putting my certification to use during the Augusta Memorial Bridge inspection last October and look forward to using my certification more in the future.

“Climbing” the Memorial Bridge

Bridge inspection is an important part of what we do here at Hoyle, Tanner. It is also a vital part of ensuring the safety of the traveling public across the country. You might not realize it, but chances are every time you get in a car you drive across one or more bridges. Per the federally enacted National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) every bridge, big and small, old and new, needs to be inspected on a biennial basis. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking for each state’s department of transportation (DOT), and each DOT is looking to inspect bridges faster, more cost effectively, and in less disruptive ways as to not impact the day to day usage of the bridge.

A dynamic, rapidly growing bridge inspection method is to “climb” the structure using rope access techniques. Rope access can best be pictured as a mixture of rock climbing and bridge inspection. The inspector is suspended from two ropes and can either ascend, descend or climb along the bridge. Certain bridges can often have elements that are inaccessible or uneconomical to inspect with traditional methods, such as rigging or the use of under bridge inspection vehicles. Rope access can be tailored for countless geometric challenges, which allows for a detailed, hands-on inspection of every bridge element. In other words, rope access allows inspectors to go anywhere and see any part of the bridge.

Recently a team of five Hoyle, Tanner bridge inspectors including three SPRAT1 and/or IRATA2 rope access inspectors completed a bi-annual inspection of the Memorial Bridge in Augusta, Maine. This 2,100 foot long, 75 foot high historic deck truss bridge posed many challenges for bridge inspection access. Access from the ground below was limited because part of the bridge is over the Kennebec River, and access from above was prevented by a tall chain link fencing that runs the entire length of the bridge. Most importantly, this bridge is a vital transportation route in the heart of the state capital making closing all or part of the bridge to traffic undesirable. Utilizing rope access techniques, we were able to perform a hands-on inspection of every member of the bridge from below the deck and above the river. Rope access allowed for a faster and more cost effective inspection than the traditional methods typically used.

  1. Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians– North American body for developing rope access standards and practices.
  2. Industrial Rope Access Trade Association– Internationally recognized body for developing rope access standards and practices.