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What is an inspection? Definition and meaning

The definition and meaning of inspection refers to any situation where something, a process, building or organization is checked or examined to make sure it meets specific standards – to check that it is not faulty or breaking the law. In the world of business it is the critical appraisal of materials, items or systems involving examination, testing, gauging, measurement and comparison. It is a formal evaluation or organized examination exercise.

The inspector or inspection team determines whether the item or material is in proper condition and of the right quantity, and whether it conforms to the specified or applicable requirements.

The person who carries out an inspection is called an inspector. The verb is to inspect. To inspect means to view, observe or check something carefully or critically – to carry out an official or formal viewing or examination.

InspectionTo define Inspection means careful examination or scrutiny.

An inspection may be carried out visually, or using sensing technologies such as heat sensors or ultrasonic equipment. It may be carried on site or remotely (remote visual inspection), automatically (automatic optical inspection) or manually.

According to ft.com/lexicon, an inspection by definition is:

“A visit to a factory or other building to check that everything is satisfactory and all rules are being obeyed. An official check done on something to see that it is of the right standard or quality, or whether it is safe to use.”



The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the word ‘inspection’ first appeared in the English language in the British Isles in the fourteenth century. It came from Old French Inspeccion, meaning ‘examination, inspection’, which became Inspection in Modern French. The French word came from Latin Inspectionem (nominative Inspectio), meaning ‘a looking into’; the noun of action from past participle stem of Inspicere, meaning ‘observe, look at, view, inspect, examine, look into’.

What is a surprise inspection?

A surprise inspection occurs when the inspectors arrive unannounced – nobody knew they were coming. They are conducted when bosses want to know how people in their company or organization are really performing.

Inspection - Ticket inspectorOne of the main reasons we carry out so many inspections is that we do not trust each other. Train companies have ticket inspectors to check that everybody has paid their fare. If they did not exist, even if 82% of us were honest and only 18% of travelers never paid for their trips, the train company might not be able to make a profit and could go bust.

Some government departments – if their laws allow it – carry out surprise inspections of hospitals, prisons, schools, etc.

Most assessors say that surprise inspections give them a better picture of the typical state of the inspected target.

Surprise inspections enhance external confidence in the inspection process.



What is a home inspection

A home inspection is a non-invasive examination of a home’s physical condition, usually in connection with the sale of that property. The term is used with this meaning in North America and Australia. In the UK and Ireland, people carry out a survey of the house.

Home inspections are conducted by a home inspector (UK/Ireland: chartered surveyor), who is trained to examine the property.

After inspecting the property, the inspector prepares and delivers a written report of his or her findings to the client. The client then uses the information in the report to secure approval for a mortgage, or negotiate a lower price with the seller if faults that require repair are detected.

While the home inspector can provide extensive information on the current state of the property, he or she does not guarantee its future condition or life expectancy.

Inspector and chief inspectorIn the police force, inspector and chief inspector are ranks of seniority. In the USA, the meaning of police inspector varies considerably, depending on whether it is the municipal police, state police or other forces. In the UK, a Chief Inspector is Senior to an Inspector. The man on the right is actor Rowan Atkinson (actor of Mr. Bean), who did a TV comedy series ‘Thin Blue Line’ in which he was an Inspector.

Other types of inspections

There are literally thousands of different types of inspections in the world of business, finance, health, education, etc. Below is a list of some common ones:

Manufacturing: includes measuring, testing, examining, or gauging one or more features of a process or product, and comparing the findings with specified requirements to determine whether they are up to standard.

Fire Equipment: needs to be inspected regularly to make sure that they work properly in the event of a fire. In the United States and most advanced economies, fire extinguishers should be inspected every month by somebody, and by a servicing company at least once a year.

Fire inspectionThe East Longmeadow Fire Department’s Inspection Division in Massachusetts, USA, carries out inspections and issues permits for firework displays, fixed extinguishing system installations, flammable gas storage, gun powder storage, sprinkler system installations, kitchen hood and duct system installations, and liquid petroleum gas storage. (Image: eastlongmeadowma.gov)

Business: in international trade, many importing nations require that pre-shipment inspections are performed. The importer tells the vendor which inspection company should do the job. The inspector takes photographs of the goods and writes a report to certify that the products that are being exported and produced are in accordance with the documents that accompany them.

Government: a monitoring authority may carry out an inspection of schools, restaurants, places that sell food, abattoirs (slaughter houses) factories that process food, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, zoos, parks, the police, building works, etc.

Road vehicles: in most countries, an annual inspection of each motor vehicle is required to make sure they conform with laws regarding safety and/or emissions. In the UK, cars aged 3 years or more must undergo an MOT (Ministry of Transport) test annually.

Engineering, mechanics: a mechanical inspection is usually performed to make sure structures or items of machinery are safe and reliable. In Europe, entities involved in engineering inspection are assessed by accreditation bodies according to ISO 17020.

The engineering inspection is generally more complex than other types of inspection. Companies commonly take out engineering inspection insurance.

Medical: this refers to the thorough and unhurried visualization of the patient. During the inspection, the doctor observes the patient’s nutritional state or weight, hair distribution, breathing rate, body features and symmetry appearance, gait, manner of speaking, and movement of the abdomen plus each side of the chest during respiration.

He or she looks out for any swelling, discoloration, scars and striae (stretch marks), abnormal contour, tremor, and unusual odors. The medial professional also listens to any sounds emanating from the patient.

According to Merriam-Webster, a medical inspection is the: “Visual observation of the body in the course of a medical examination.”

Nuclear Power Plant InspectionAmar Pater (pictured), a resident inspector at the Hope Creek Nuclear Plant in Southern New Jersey, wrote: “It is said that the resident inspector job is the greatest job in the NRC. You are the front-line eyes and ears of the agency, you can clearly see the impact you provide with regard to nuclear safety, and your boss is far away on the phone!” (Image: public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov)

Nuclear Power Plants: the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) carries out two general types of inspections – planned and reactive inspections. They may be conducted by individuals or teams, and might be announced or unannounced, as part of a general program or with specific aims.

According to the IAEA:

Planned inspections are those carried out in fulfillment of, and in conformance with, a structured and largely pre-arranged or baseline inspection program developed by the regulatory body.”

Special inspections may be carried out to consider specific issues that may be of interest to the regulatory body, such as new research and development findings and experience from other facilities.”

Reactive inspections, by individuals or teams, are usually initiated by the regulatory body in response to an unexpected, unplanned or unusual situation or an incident, in order to assess its significance and implications and the adequacy of corrective actions. The regulatory body assumes the need for reactive inspections and plans its requirements for staff and consultants accordingly.

Video – Used car inspection – Definition and Meaning

In this video, Chris Fix explains how to inspect a used car that you plan on purchasing. He goes through the things we should check if we see a used car for sale on the side of the road and want to determine whether it is worth contacting the owner.