PDF Print

Inspection is an essential part of path maintenance and is the means to monitor the condition of the path and identify minor repairs that may be necessary. Inspection is also essential to assess hazards and their risks to path users. The person doing the inspection must be competent to carry out the task, i.e. they must have the knowledge, experience and skills, relevant to what they are inspecting. The inspection will help to confirm that the planned 'preventative' maintenance is effective, or to make adjustments as necessary.

What to look for

As well as looking for damaged or worn items, the inspection should include early indications of problems to come. This will help with prioritising repairs as you may be able to estimate how long a particular problem might take to require action - your defined wear limits should help determine the length of service remaining.

When to inspect

Inspections should be carried out to a fixed routine. This is important for record keeping and will assist in minimising inspection costs and planning maintenance expenditure. Emergency inspections should also take place in response to adverse weather or serious complaints. Some items can be visually inspected by staff or volunteers, but may require more detailed inspection by an engineer on a longer cycle.

How to record and report

The findings of each inspection should be recorded, which means that the system you use needs to be simple to administer – there is little point spending time inspecting a path and then having no way of ensuring that the problems are reported and can be rectified. Over a period of years you will build up a picture of how a path ‘performs’ – these records are vitally important, especially where different people are involved in the inspections and repairs, you can avoid losing knowledge ‘inside someone’s head’ if individuals are unable to continue to manage the path.

If possible, divide the path into sections that relate to the original specification of the path, or divide into easily identifiable lengths of similar character. You can then record an overall impression of each section as well as the condition of specific items.

A standard form can be useful to make sure that the condition of each item on the path is recorded. This can generate a lot of paperwork, so think carefully about the level of detail you need – you may, for example, wish to report on the overall state of drainage features, but be able to pinpoint problems with individual drains. Complex structures, such as bridges, will need a dedicated form detailing each component to be inspected. Taking the previous year’s report out on the path can be useful to check whether problems were resolved, or if they are recurring (and therefore require more substantial action).

You may find it useful to define categories of problems to help with prioritising action as a result of the inspection. However, anyone inspecting or dealing with reports must have a consistent understanding of each category. A serious problem may warrant urgent repair whereas less serious problems can be built into the planned maintenance programme. Inspections may also highlight features requiring upgrading and will assist resource management.  More detailed descriptions and photographs of condition will be helpful in deciding whether repair or replacement is necessary.

Some examples of reporting categories that could be used:

Category Typical problem or condition
Good condition Item is ‘as specified’ or at least 75% of original condition / capacity
Fair condition Item showing minor signs of wear 50 – 75% of original condition / capacity
Poor condition Item showing signs of wear or 25- 50% of original condition / capacity
Dangerous condition Item not fully functioning or less than 25% of original condition / capacity
Minor damage – stable Leaf litter on path surface
Minor damage – dynamic Culvert blocked, drain overflowing
Major damage – affecting accessibility Surface scoured exposing base layer with geotextile visible
Major damage – risk to health of users Broken handrail on bridge
Potential damage – minor Loose bolts on bench
Potential damage – major Ditch capacity reduced by 50% and running close to full in normal conditions


Path users may be the first to encounter a problem. They must be able to report problems easily. A telephone answering machine, dedicated email address or online website form can be used for this purpose, providing that they are monitored. It is also a good idea to produce a pro-forma for recording phone calls so that all relevant information is obtained. Publicise the contact details on path promotion tools - orientation board or leaflet. Try to respond to reports quickly to maintain public goodwill - and get in touch with those who have reported problems to let them know the problem is fixed.

Inspecting drainage features

The state of the drainage system is probably the most important indicator of the resilience of a path. An inspection will highlight the scale of routine maintenance required and should provide a warning of potential problems that could be avoided by early intervention. The following checklist will help to identify specific problems that will lead to path damage or risk to path users if they go unrectified.

Feature Potential problems
  • Blockage or obstruction restricting water flow along the ditch
  • Scouring and undercutting of the channel base and sides
French drains
  • Standing water and build up of debris, leaf litter and vegetation growth on drain stone surface
  • Loose or missing stones on headwalls
  • Blockage in the pipe, inlet and outlet ditching
  • Exposed pipe or path settlement over the top of culvert
  • Damaged or loose handrails (if fitted)
Cut off drains
  • Build up of debris and leaf litter on grating
  • Silt in the drain channel
  • Blockage of the outlet restricting water flow out of drain
Cross drains
  • Loose channel side walls or liner base
  • Undermining of the liner base
  • Blockage in the stone channel, inlet/outlet ditching restricting water flow.
  • Path surface washout behind side wall stone
Water bars
  • Loose shedding bar and liner channel stone
  • Undermining of the liner channel stone
  • Blockage of the bar channel, silt trap (if installed) and outlet restricting water flow
  • Water erosion on the path surface above and below the water bar
  • Path settlement below top edge of shedding bar and liner channel stone


Inspecting structures

Structures, such as bridges and retaining walls, need more detailed inspections. It is good practice to carry out a full and detailed inspection of structures annually. Here are some points to look for:

Structure Potential problems
  • Loose or missing timbers, splinters on handrails, loose joints
  • Corrosion on steelwork, broken welds, buckling of sections
  • Eroding abutments, settlement, cracks
  • Trip and slip hazards, unevenness, movement of decking boards
  • Vegetation growing on the structure
  • Broken wires
  • Excessive bulging, especially if gabions are in a wall
  • Settlement and toppling (wall may be collapsing)
Retaining walls
  • Decaying materials, cracks and differential movement
  • Bulging and toppling
  • Seeping water
Stone walls
  • Loss of pointing
  • Loose or missing stones
  • Bulges and settlement
  • Loose deck boards, trip and slip hazards
  • Cracks in substructure, decay and settlementErosion around posts


Large bridges and other complex structures should be inspected by a qualified engineer on a defined inspection cycle – this could be every three years, with routine inspections by a trained person on an annual basis.

Responding to inspections and reports

Once identified and reported, a problem must be rectified. If an immediate repair is not possible, carrying out temporary repairs may enable a path to be partially re-opened until a full repair can be done. Provide warning signs, and inform users if accessibility is reduced.

It is good practice to set out response times and action plans for carrying out repairs. Ensure repairs are carried out to a satisfactory standard and comply with health and safety requirements.

If an immediate repair is not required, inspections can be used to monitor the problem and decide when a repair is needed. Washed out surfaces (unbound or semi-bound) can often be levelled out and re-compacted using the material washed out. The temporary surface may not enable all users to access the path, but at least the path will be open and safe. It can be repaired when other works are being done in the vicinity, to avoid bringing plant in for one small job.

Some maintenance problems or faults may present a hazard to the public, such as a failure on a structure such as a bridge. You may need to erect warning signs, seek expert help to assess the fault or even close the path. The responsibility rests with the path manager to assess the risk, and take appropriate action.

<< Back to top

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh