5 Pipeline Inspection Tricks of the Trade

Pipeline inspection work is too costly to learn through trial and error. Find out how to do it right.
5 Pipeline Inspection Tricks of the Trade
A technician uses a Gen-Eye SD system from General Pipe Cleaners to inspect a line.

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Every profession has a few tricks of the trade, those little tidbits of knowledge only gained with experience, and maybe through learning from a few mistakes. Pipeline inspection is no different. 

Plumbers routinely inspect drainlines and vent stacks at homes and business, but if your inspection work takes you outside, especially into the streets for sewer main or lateral inspections, there are other factors to consider. Here, Jim Aanderud, president and owner of Innerline Engineering, a video pipeline inspection company based in Corona, California, shares a few tips and tricks he's picked up through his years on the job.

1. Wrestling manhole covers

The condition and location of a manhole cover can vary greatly. Sometimes, the job is straightforward and you might only need a manhole hook to gain access. However, if the cover is totally or partially buried — or under a layer of asphalt — you’ll need something with a little more oomph.

Aanderud recommends carrying a digging bar, which is lightweight and a good addition to your pipeline inspection arsenal. He also recommends that in the spirit of being prepared for anything, it’s wise to keep a sledgehammer, shovel and manhole hook in your inspection van. 

2. Traffic control dilemma

Aside from the challenges of actually inspecting a pipe, you also have to deal with moving vehicles and coordinating traffic flow. After years on the job, it might be easy to let your guard down, but Aanderud says staying alert and planning ahead are critical, especially when you might have moving vehicles within inches of your equipment or crew. 

“Never turn your back to traffic,” he says. “You have to have an escape plan in mind, which you need to prethink.” 

Aanderud also advises spending time on your traffic setup. 

“Sit back and watch it, making adjustments if it’s not working,” he says. “Extend the taper of the cones if traffic is congested. Learn from it and never take it for granted, even in a residential neighborhood.” 

3. Do a double take

Every CCTV van or pipeline inspection vehicle should include an equipment checklist that operators mark off before and after every job. After all, the last thing you need is to be missing a piece of equipment or have a malfunctioning item when you get to a location. 

“A crew worker shouldn’t leave the yard unless he has everything with him,” Aanderud says. “I dislike it when different operators use the same truck. When that happens, it’s always the other guy’s fault. I personally like it when there’s a single operator for a single truck.” 

4. What goes in, must come out

Lowering a camera into a pipe isn’t the only stressful moment in an inspection. Remember that just because you can get a camera into a pipe, that doesn't mean you can get it out. Aanderud says a couple scenarios can cause the greatest headaches. 

“You have to be very careful when dealing with heavy root bulbs,” he says. “But the worst is intruding laterals, where you’ve got maybe an 8-inch line with a 6-inch lateral that breaks into it. Always be careful where you’re going, and make sure that whatever you’re pushing through, you can get out.” 

5. Training takes time

Aanderud says a NASSCO certification is just the beginning of operator training. What happens next, on the job, is as important as any mandatory certification program, and should include a gradual timeframe that lets operators observe and absorb the inspection process. 

“Have a well-thought-out training program,” he says. “Some people are rushing out there. When you’re out in the field, there’s so much to take in because it’s not just about sitting down and running the software and learning to assess what’s inside the pipe. There are so many other nuances out there, like traffic control, that you need to observe and take in.” 

A new operator, in Aanderud’s opinion, should start as a helper and then move into an operator chair after an adequate amount of time spent observing and learning. 

Have you discovered any interesting ways to organize your equipment or tricks for navigating through tight pipes? Take a minute and drop a comment about your favorite tip of the trade.


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