A Freight and Cargo Inspector inspects, manages and documents freight shipments and verifies that the contents are in compliance with local, national and international regulations. Some freight and cargo inspectors work only with a specific type of freight - for example, automobiles - while others work with a range of shipment types.
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Freight and cargo inspectors fulfill a variety of functions related to transporting, importing and exporting freight. Freight shipments are governed by an extensive list of laws, regulations and policies designed to keep each shipment secure and undamaged, and to provide for the safety of everyone who handles the cargo. These regulations grow even more complicated if the freight is hazardous (such as biomedical waste, transplant organs and blood) or must cross state or national lines on route to its final destination. Failure to comply with any freight regulations can result in stiff penalties for the freight company, and possibly the person or organization that initiated the shipment. Consequently, shipping companies are motivated to hire thorough, motivated inspectors who will function as compliance officers.
Not all freight and cargo inspectors work for shipping firms, however. Some are employed by airlines, ocean freighter services, and rail companies. These individuals perform many of the same tasks as their aforementioned counterparts, but must often perform additional kinds of inspections as well. For example, live animals cannot be shipped in unpressurized cargo aircraft because the ambient oxygen levels at the plane's cruising altitude are too low to support life. Airline freight inspectors must therefore examine all cargo manifests and weed out anything with living contents. Furthermore, these inspectors must inspect any suspicious-looking packages or crates so as to identify any cargo with a deceptive content list. Mammals can be shipped on cargo trains and ocean freighters; they can also travel in the pressurized cargo bay of a passenger airplane.
Freight and cargo inspectors are also responsible for properly positioning, cushioning, restraining and balancing cargo. An unevenly loaded plane, train or ship quickly becomes unstable; unbalanced planes may incur structural damage that leads to a serious accident, and a cargo ship that's unevenly loaded is much more likely to capsize or dump its cargo in inclement weather. If this happens, the freight company must compensate the client for the lost items, which may mean a payout of several million dollars. Understandably, this is something they wish to avoid.
A freight and cargo inspector must be able to retain a working memory of the regulations they are supposed to enforce; solid math skills are also needed to calculate load distribution, the maximum load capacity of the vehicle in question and the weight of each individual crate. Cargo inspectors must be skilled critical thinkers who are able to apply abstract regulations to highly specific situations; they must also be highly organized and amenable to maintaining fastidious records. Prior experience in a shipping, manufacturing or merchandising occupation is helpful, but not required. Computer skills are also essential for most of these positions; applicants to freight and cargo inspecting positions should be comfortable with basic word processing and familiar with spreadsheet and database software.
Necessary mathematical skills include a strong working knowledge of geometry, trigonometry and calculus; inspectors typically keep records and make calculations on a laptop computer or other mobile device, and usually have access to a scientific calculator for more advanced calculations. Inspectors should be fluent in whatever language their organization uses for business; this is usually English, which is also the international language of aviation and maritime travel. It is also quite helpful for inspectors to speak a second language - preferably one spoken by the manual laborers under his or her direction. In many cases, this is Spanish. It is crucial that a freight and cargo inspector is able to communicate clearly with the workers who are positioning and securing the cargo in question.
Freight and cargo inspectors may work for shipping companies, airlines, rail lines, trucking companies, or for any company that ships and recieves a lot of freight. Inspectors are also employed by state and national governments. Extensive travel may be involved, although for inspectors working at small companies the traveling may simply mean walking from a warehouse out to the loading dock with a tape measure and clipboard. Freight and cargo inspectors who work for governments and other regulatory agencies may need to fly frequently and across large distances, particularly if they work for the government of the United States, Canada or another large nation. These professionals are often sent on fact-finding assignments throughout the country, where they must visit airports, warehouses, shipping docks and other relevant locations.
Salaried freight and cargo inspectors working in the United States earn an average of $63,000 per year, which works out to about $29 per hour, before taxes. Professionals employed by governments may earn more and enjoy greater job security than inspectors retained by private industry. The freight industry is essential to modern life as we know it, which provides a measure of protection against economic crises and layoffs.