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Inspectors and Compliance Officers, except Construction

Protecting the public from health and safety hazards, prohibiting unfair trade and employment practices, controlling immigration, preventing entry of prohibited matter, regulating career practices, and raising revenue are important responsibilities. Inspectors and compliance officers enforce the laws and regulations that govern these responsibilities.

Depending upon their employer, inspectors vary widely in title and responsibilities.

Health Inspectors. Health inspectors work with engineers, chemists, micro- biologists, and health workers to insure compliance with public health and safety regulations governing food, drugs, cosmetics, and other consumer products. They also administer regulations that govern the quarantine of persons and products entering the United States from foreign countries. The major types of health inspectors are: Consumer safety, food, agricultural quarantine, and environmental health inspectors. In addition, some inspectors work in a field closely related to food inspection--agricultural commodity grading.

Most consumer safety inspectors specialize in food, feeds and pesticides, weights and measures, cosmetics, or drugs and medical equipment. Some are proficient in several areas. Working individually or in teams under a senior or supervisory inspector, they periodically check firms that produce, handle, store, and market food, drugs, and cosmetics. They look for inaccurate product labeling, and for decomposition or chemical or bacteriological contamination that could result in a product becoming harmful to health. They use portable scales, cameras, ultraviolet lights, container sampling devices, thermometers, chemical testing kits, radiation monitors, and other equipment to ascertain violations. They send product samples collected as part of their examinations to laboratories for analysis. After completing their inspection, inspectors discuss their observations with plant managers or officials and point out areas where corrective measures are needed. They write reports of their findings, and, when necessary, compile evidence that may be used in court if legal action must be taken to enforce the law. Federal and State laws empower food inspectors to inspect meat, poultry, and their byproducts to insure that they are wholesome and safe for public consumption. Working as an on-site team under a veterinarian, they inspect meat and poultry slaughtering, processing, and packaging operations. They also check for correct product labeling and proper sanitation.

Agricultural quarantine inspectors protect American agricultural products from the spread of foreign plant pests and animal diseases. To safeguard crops, forests, gardens, and livestock, they inspect ships, aircraft, railroad cars, and motor vehicles entering the United States for restricted or prohibited plant or animal materials.

Environmental health inspectors, or sanitarians, who work primarily for State and local governments, insure that food, water, and air meet government standards. They check the cleanliness and safety of food and beverages produced in dairies and processing plants, or served in restaurants, hospitals, and other institutions. They often examine the handling, processing, and serving of food for compliance with sanitation rules and regulations. They oversee the treatment and disposal of sewage, refuse, and garbage. They examine places where pollution is a danger, test for pollutants, and collect air or water samples for analysis. They determine the nature and cause of pollution and initiate action to stop it.

In large local and State health or agriculture departments, environmental health inspectors may specialize in milk and dairy products, food sanitation, waste control, air pollution, institutional sanitation, or occupational health. In rural areas and small cities, they may be responsible for a wide range of environmental health activities.

Agricultural commodity graders apply quality standards to aid the buying and selling of commodities and to insure that retailers and consumers receive wholesome and reliable products. They generally specialize in an area such as eggs and egg products, meat, poultry, processed or fresh fruits and vegetables, grain, tobacco, cotton, or dairy products. They examine product samples to determine quality and grade, and issue official grading certificates. Graders also may inspect the plant and equipment to maintain sanitation standards.

Regulatory Inspectors. Regulatory inspectors insure compliance with laws and regulations that protect the public welfare. Important types of regulatory inspectors are: Immigration; customs; air safety; railroad; motor vehicle; occupational safety and health; mine; wage-hour compliance; and alcohol, tobacco, and firearms inspectors.

Immigration inspectors interview and examine people seeking to enter the United States and its territories. They inspect passports to determine whether people are legally eligible to enter and to verify their citizenship status and identity. Immigration inspectors also prepare reports, maintain records, and process applications and petitions for immigration or temporary residence in the United States.

Customs inspectors enforce laws governing imports and exports. Stationed at airports, seaports, and border crossing points, they examine, count, weigh, gauge, measure, and sample commercial cargoes entering and leaving the United States to determine admissibility and the amount of tax that must be paid. They also inspect baggage and articles worn by passengers and crew members to insure that all merchandise is declared, proper duties are paid, and contraband is not present.

Postal inspectors observe the functioning of the postal system and recommend improvements. They investigate criminal activities such as theft and misuse of the mail. In instances of suspected mismanagement or fraud, they conduct management or financial audits. They collaborate with other government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, as members of special task forces.

Aviation safety inspectors insure that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations which govern the quality and safety of aircraft equipment and personnel are maintained. Aviation safety inspectors may inspect aircraft and equipment manufacturing, maintenance and repair, or flight operations procedures. They usually specialize in either commercial or general aviation aircraft. They also examine and certify aircraft pilots, pilot examiners, flight instructors, schools, and instructional materials.

Railroad inspectors verify the compliance of railroad systems and equipment with Federal safety regulations. They investigate accidents and review railroads' operating practices.

Motor vehicle inspectors verify the compliance of automobiles and trucks with State requirements for safe operation and emissions. They inspect truck cargoes to assure compliance with legal limitations on gross weight and hazardous cargoes.

Traffic inspectors oversee the scheduled service of streetcar, bus, or railway systems. They report conditions hazardous to passengers and disruptive to service. They determine the need for additional vehicles, revised schedules, or other changes to improve service.

Occupational safety and health inspectors visit places of employment to detect unsafe machinery and equipment or unhealthy working conditions. They discuss their findings wit the employer or plant manager and urge that violations be promptly corrected in accordance with Federal, State, or local government safety standards and regulations.

Mine inspectors work to insure the health and safety of miners. they visit mines and related facilities to obtain information on health and safety conditions and to enforce safety laws and regulations. They discuss their findings with the management of the mine and issue notices describing violations and hazards that must be corrected. They also investigate and report on mine accidents and may direct rescue and firefighting operations when fires or explosions occur.

Wage-hour compliance inspectors inspect employers' time, payroll, and personnel records to insure compliance with Federal laws on minimum wages, overtime, pay, employment of minors, and equal employment opportunity. They often interview employees to verify the employer's records and to check for complaints.

Equal opportunity representatives ascertain and correct unfair employment practices through consultation with and medication between employers and minority groups.

Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms inspectors inspects distilleries, wineries, and breweries; cigar and cigarette manufacturing plants; wholesale liquor dealers and importers; firearms and explosive manufacturers, dealers, and users; and other regulated facilities. They insure compliance with revenue laws and other regulations on operating procedures, unfair competition, and trade practices, and determine that appropriate taxes are paid.

Securities and real estate directors implement regulations concerning securities and real estate transactions. Their departments investigate applications for registration of securities sales and complaints of irregular securities or real estate transactions, and recommend necessary legal action.

Revenue officers investigate delinquent tax returns and liabilities. They discuss the resolution of tax problems with taxpayers and recommend penalties and prosecution when necessary. Attendance officers investigate delinquent tax returns and liabilities. They discuss the resolution of tax problems with taxpayers and recommend penalties and prosecution when necessary.

Attendance officers investigate continued absences of pupils from public schools.

Dealer compliance representatives inspect franchised establishments to ascertain compliance with the franchiser's policies and procedures. They may suggest changes in financial and other operations.

Logging operations inspectors review contract logging operations. They prepare reports and issue remedial instructions for violations of contractual agreements and of fire and safety regulations.

Travel accommodations raters inspect hotels, motels, restaurants, campgrounds, and vacation resorts. They evaluate travel and tourist accommodations for travel guide publishers and organizations such as tourism promoters and automobile clubs.

Other inspectors and compliance officers include coroners, code inspectors, and mortician investigators.

Working conditions

Inspectors and compliance officers live an active life; they meet many people and work in a variety of environments. Their jobs often involve considerable fieldwork, and some inspectors travel frequently. They are furnished with an automobile or are reimbursed for travel expenses.

At times, inspectors have unfavorable working conditions. For example, mine inspectors often are exposed to the same hazards as miners. Customs inspectors may be threatened by smugglers and other criminals. Food and alcohol, tobacco, and firearms inspectors frequently come in contact with strong, unpleasant odors. Many inspectors work long and often irregular hours.


Inspectors and compliance officers held 132,000 jobs in 1990; they meet many people and work in a variety of environments. Their jobs often involve considerable field work, and some inspectors travel frequently. They are furnished with an automobile or are reimbursed for travel expenses.

The largest single employer of consumer safety inspectors is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the majority work for State governments. Most food inspectors and agricultural commodity graders in processing plants are employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural quarantine inspectors work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most environmental health inspectors work for State and local governments.

Most Federal regulatory inspectors work in regional and district offices throughout the United States. The Treasury Department employs internal revenue officers. Aviation safety inspectors work for the Federal Aviation Administration. The Department of Labor employs wage-hour compliance officers, and the Treasury Department employs alcohol, tobacco, and firearms inspectors. Occupations safety and health inspectors and mine inspectors also work for the Department of Labor, as well as for many State governments. Immigration inspectors are employed by the Department of Justice. Customs inspectors work for the Treasury Department. Like agricultural quarantine inspectors, immigration and customs inspectors work at U.S. airports, seaports, and border crossing points, and at foreign airports and seaports.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Because of the diversity of functions, qualifications for inspector and compliance officer jobs differ greatly. Requirements are a combination of education, experience, and a written examination. Employers generally prefer applicants with college training, including course-work related to the job.

Food inspectors must have related experience and pass an examination based on specialized knowledge.

Aviation safety inspectors must have considerable experience in aviation maintenance and knowledge of the industry and relevant Federal laws. In addition, FAA mechanic or pilot and medical certificates are required. Some also are required to have an FAA flight instructors rating. Many aviation safety inspectors have had flight training and mechanical training in the Armed Forces. No written examination is required.

Applicants for mine safety inspector positions generally must have experience in mine safety, management, or supervision, or possess a skill such as that of an electrician (for mine electrical inspectors). In some cases, a general aptitude test may be required.

Applicants for internal revenue officer jobs must have a bachelor's degree or 3 years of career, legal, or investigative work experience that displays strong analytical ability.

Some civil service examinations, including those for agricultural quarantine inspectors and agricultural commodity graders, rate applicants solely on their experience and education and require no written examination.

Environmental health inspectors, called sanitarians in many States, usually must have a bachelor's degree in environmental health or the physical or biological sciences. In most States, they are licensed by examination boards.

All inspectors and compliance officers are trained in applicable laws and inspection procedures through a combination of classroom and on-the-job training. In general, people who want to enter this occupation should be able to accept responsibility and like detailed work. They should be neat and personable and able to express themselves well orally and in writing.

Federal Government inspectors and compliance officers whose job performance is satisfactory advance through their career ladder to a specified full performance level. Above this level (usually supervisory positions), advancement is competitive, based on agency needs and individual merit. Advancement opportunities in State and local governments and the private sector are often similar to those in the Federal Government.

Job Outlook

Employment of inspectors and compliance officers as a group is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Employment growth, particularly in local government, will reflect the expansion of regulatory and compliance programs such as solid and hazardous waste disposal and water pollution. In private industry, employment growth will reflect increasing self- enforcement of government and company regulations and policies, particularly among the rapidly growing number of franchise dealerships in various industries. Most job openings, however, will arise from the need to replace those who transfer to other occupations, or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.

Employment of inspectors and compliance officers is seldom affected by general economic fluctuations. Most work in programs which enjoy wide public support. As a result, they are less likely to lose their jobs than many other workers when government programs are cut.


The median annual salary of inspectors and compliance officers, except construction, was $27,800 in 1990. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,300; the highest 10 percent earned at least $45,900.

Most starting Federal salaries were around $16,300 a year in 1990. However, some inspectors and compliance officers--for example, aviation safety officers and postal inspectors--had higher starting salaries.

In the Federal Government, the average annual salary was somewhat higher- $20,900 to $58,100--depending upon the nature of the inspection or compliance activity, the average salary varied substantially.

Salaries of inspectors and compliance officers in State and local governments and in private industry are generally lower than their federal counterparts.

Related Occupations

Inspectors and compliance officers are responsible for seeing that laws and regulations are obeyed. Revenue agents, construction and building inspectors, fire marshals, State and local police officers, customs patrol officers, customs special agents, and fish and game wardens also enforce laws.

Sources of Additional Information

Information on Federal Government jobs is available from offices of the State employment service, area offices of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and Federal Job Information Centers in large cities throughout the country. For information on a career as a specific type of inspector or compliance officer, the Federal department or agency that employees them may also be contacted directly.

Information about State and local government jobs is available from State civil service commissions, usually located in each State capital, or from local government offices.

Information about jobs in private industry is available from the Job Service. It is listed under "Job Service" or "Employment" in the State government section of local telephone directories.


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Inspectors and Compliance Officers, except Construction

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