March 2015

It’s a Dog’s Weld

The construction community recently sat up and took notice of a loophole within the American Welding Society (AWS) D1.1 Structural Steel Welding Code when a shocking press release revealed a dog “Henry Wolfe” got certified by a non-accredited weld testing facility in Michigan. Until that press release, most of us within the construction industry believed AWS D1.1 was the gold standard for welding. Becoming certified to weld on a construction project meant training to meet the qualifications required by the AWS D1.1 code. Most state and federal construction sites have prerequisites within their contracts that workers performing welding services on their projects must be tested to the code, requiring project contractors ensure their workers are certified and provide documentation or “welding certifications” for each worker. 

According to the press release, Henry Wolfe received his welding certifications from NDT Materials testing facility, a division of TÜV Rheinland. NDT is a non-accredited inspection company that provides visual and non-destructive testing (NDT) of welds that can assess a welder’s performance. NDT claims all their testing is performed in accordance with the American Welding Society (AWS) standards by certified welding inspector (CWI) personnel. 

As it is currently written AWS standard D1.1 allows a contractor to perform welding qualification testing on their own employees as long as they have a written welding procedure specification and an inspector the company claims is qualified to administer the welding test. The company’s inspector is required to witness workers weld plates of steel together using the specified procedure. The welded plates are then labeled, signed by the company inspector and sent to a facility where they must be tested before the welder can be certified. AWS accredited facilities require their own third-party certified inspector to be present when workers are welding their test plates as well as oversee the testing of the plates at the testing facility. Many non-accredited facilities, such as NDT, do not have that requirement. 

This same “self-test” process was used to acquire the Henry Wolfe welding certification. In a follow-up news article, an official from TÜV Rheinland — the global conglomerate who owns the NDT facility in Michigan — stated that non-accredited testing facilities “rely on the integrity of the client” to uphold the requirements of the code. All too often though, unscrupulous contractors will cut every corner and use every loophole they can find to maximize profits.

Lamar Construction is a prime example of what happens when an unscrupulous contractor is allowed to “self-test.” Lamar worked on a number of publicly funded construction projects — including schools and courthouses — and has been the steel erector on buildings that have collapsed. 

One such collapse was at a high school in Kentucky. Lamar was hired to perform welding and steel erection at the McCracken County Consolidated High School. Shortly after construction began, a section of the gymnasium collapsed. Documents from the investigation of the collapse revealed just four days prior to the collapse a test was done on Lamar welds on the project. The next day, just three days before the collapse, Lamar was instructed by the engineer on the project to tighten bolts and weld connections under the joist roof. Lamar did not show up to make the necessary welds before the structure collapsed two days later. Interviews with Lamar employees revealed many of the workers were not given proper training or required testing by the company and were not properly certified to perform welding on this and other jobsites.

Fortunately, there were no injuries as a result of the McCracken County School collapse.

But an electrical worker on a Menards project in Indiana was not so fortunate.

Lamar was responsible for the welding and steel erection on that construction site as well. During later phases of construction, a section of the roof collapsed due to water buildup on the roof. The steel joists installed in the building could not withstand the weight of the water and buckled inward. An electrical worker was struck in the back, severing a portion of his spinal cord and rendering him permanently paralyzed. According to the testimony of the engineer who inspected the building following the incident, strap plates, which were installed by Lamar Construction, were not welded to design specifications and directly resulted in the collapse of the building. 

TÜV Rheinland’s statement regarding the industry’s reliance on the “integrity” of contractors like Lamar Construction underlines the necessity of revisions to the AWS D1.1 Structural Steel Welding code. Until contractors and testing facilities are compelled to use a mandated third party procedure, which includes an AWS certified welding inspector, abuse of the system, injuries and accidents will continue to occur. 

For those who believe this is just a fluke, think again. Henry Wolfe’s certification is by no means a singular event; it is merely the most egregious. And while TÜV stated that upon review of the facts “Henry Wolfe the dog no longer meets the requirements to be qualified as a welder.” How many more seemingly “bona fide” welding certifications are out there that ARE still considered valid, undermining the integrity of our industry and our nation’s infrastructure?