A Story 

I had climbed up the pull-down stair into the attic of a sprawling 1970s ranch residential structure. This was the type of attic that had board flooring and clearly had been used for storage and coat hanging (so glad we don’t do this anymore…mostly). I had crouch-walked to one gable end, turned around, and was crouch-walking back. You know, doing my inspection thing.

Along one side of the attic access was a large masonry chimney (more than 30 inches wide) and an old gas furnace still in use. As I was making my way between the chimney and gas furnace toward the other gable wall, I had to step over the attic pull-down opening/frame. Mindful of the opening, I took a larger step to clear the frame and transition onto a section of board platform. Unfortunately, that section turned out to be unsecured.

Losing my balance, I feel out the attic pull-down opening, landing upside down on one shoulder 2/3 down the pull-down stairs. My pants had caught on a spring and tore from ankle-to-arse. My left forearm had “caught” several tread edges as I flailed with gravity and left me with a scrape that would become a scar 2 years later (yep, apparently that can happen if it is severe enough trauma). And my left shoulder was all jacked up. It took me more than 2 years to get my shoulder back to a point where I could fully lift it overhead and put weight on it in that position (I’m an avid CrossFitter, so this is a vitally important position for performing snatches, let alone a sweater).

I never went to the hospital. My wife had to bring me a new pair of pants at the inspection. I was very hurt, somewhat scared, and forever scarred. Oh, and the owner (it was a seller’s inspection) was home, so I was pretty damn embarrassed, too.

Home Inspecting Is Not An Easy Gig

Our industry is dangerous. We all know the environments in which we place ourselves, many without full or proper protection. We all know most of us can’t afford insurance that is of benefit and so we hope our partner/family can somehow support us. If you are like me, that isn’t the case. And yet, our clients, real estate agents, and builders expect us to perform our trade at nominal cost – as if they think $300 for 3 hrs. of work will pay for lung disease, lock jaw (seriously, stay up on your tetanus shots folks), broken heels (I have an acquaintance who fell off his ladder, landed on his heel, and shattered it), infections, and possibly animal/pest bites. I know we don’t have it as bad as other trades, but I mean…

The best we can do as an industry is continue to emphasize the need to dress safely, think safely, and act with prudence and caution. Even something as "simple” as sunscreen shouldn’t be overlooked – skin cancer sucks. If you don’t believe me, ask a family member or friend, or go ask a dermatologist.

As an inspector, you likely are one of two types – you are in and out in short order and abide only by the minimum standards of your state or association, or you are onsite for several hours and you go above and beyond said minimal standards. With either variant, you are not decreasing your risk and you simply cannot charge enough to cover your risk when something goes south.

What's An Inspector To Do?

My advise to all – cover your skin when you are outside, and within attics/crawlspaces. Protect your eyes when you are performing electrical panel reviews (you do know arc flashes are hot enough to melt your skin and eyes, right…?!?) and in attics and crawlspaces. And for the love of your family – protect your lungs in attics and crawlspaces. I like having facial hair, but I gave it up in order to ensure my respirator had a better fit. A N95-type mask does NOT cut it in attics and crawlspaces. Think of it like this – add up all the minutes over one year in which you find yourself in attic spaces. Now, quantify that in liters of air inhaled. Same thing for crawlspaces and basements with crappy conditions. Also, add in general air quality of some of the homes (VOCs, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, radon). Do you know how much poor air quality and air pollutants we as inspectors introduce into our bodies each year? We have nowhere to turn at our career’s end when we develop adverse health conditions – no one we can sue, no one who will want to help us. We have industry associations, but you don’t see any of them (yet) talking about post-career services for health conditions attributed to years of exposure while inspecting.

Again, I know each of you must compete with your fellow brethren which often means charging a reduced rate, trying to appease the agents by doing things you shouldn’t, and cutting corners regarding adherence of PPE because you don’t have the time. I get it. I’m in that same boat. However, that’s why I no longer compete on price and charge substantially more than most of my competitors; it’s why I do choose to stay on site longer (so I’m not rushing and cutting corners related to PPE usage). We, as an industry, have no OSHA oversite, no unions. If we don’t independently coalesce as an industry on these practices, we all will continue to face serious health and safety risks that we otherwise shouldn’t.

The Price of Health

I’m not saying that raising your prices will keep you safer. However, if you raise your prices you likely will feel a greater responsibility to limit your liability by taking more time and a deeper look. That deeper look may afford you space to use appropriate PPE and be aware of a potentially unhealthy environment before you stick your SpongeBob body (seriously, name a part of your body that isn’t porous and absorbing chemicals and liquids from your environment…) somewhere unprotected.

Personally, the longer I’m in this trade, the more I feel our price points should be several hundred dollars more per inspection than the industry average price point. Also, I think our industry needs to constantly be having this conversation – is your most profitable year worth your health or life? How about we reduce the number of business conferences focusing on volume and growth and throw in one or two focused on health, science of health and homes, and the science of your body in unhealthy environments. It’s called building science – and it’s where we’re headed. The neatest part – protecting yourself will automagically help your clients.