What is an inspection? Definition and meaning

An Inspection involves checking something, i.e., examining and assessing something. We may inspect a building or organization to make sure that it meets specific standards. The inspectors need to ensure that nothing is faulty and that nobody is breaking any laws. They also have to make sure that whatever they are inspecting is safe.

In the world of business, an inspection is the critical appraisal of materials, items, or systems involving examination, testing, and gauging. Inspectors take measurements and make comparisons. Inspections are formal evaluations or organized examination exercises.

The inspectors determine whether the item or material is in proper condition and of the right quantity. They also determine whether it conforms to the company’s, industry’s, local, or national rules and regulations.

Inspections play a crucial role in maintaining quality, safety, and compliance across various domains.

Inspector – to inspect

We refer to somebody who carries out an inspection as an inspector. The verb is to inspect. The verb means to view, observe, or check something carefully or critically. To inspect is to carry out an official or formal viewing or examination.

In manufacturing, for example, inspections are an important component in quality control.

An inspection is a careful examination. (Image created by Market Business News)

The inspectors may perform a visual examination, or use sensing technologies such as heat sensors or ultrasonic equipment.

Inspections may occur in a variety of settings. For example, they may occur on site or remotely (remote visual inspection), automatically (automatic optical inspection), or manually.

According to ft.com/lexicon, an inspection 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.”


Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how their meanings evolved.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the term 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.’

A surprise inspection

A surprise inspection occurs when nobody knew that the inspectors were coming. Hence, the term. Senior management sometimes orders surprise inspections to find out what is really going on.

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 employ inspectors, would train companies be able to survive economically?

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

Most assessors say that surprise inspections are more realistic than those for which people had time to prepare.

For example, if a prison knows you are coming, those in charge have time to clean and paint the place. They might also change what the prisoners eat during your visit.

Surprise inspections enhance external confidence in the inspection process.

A home inspection

A home inspection is a non-invasive examination of a home’s physical condition. Home inspections (UK/Ireland: surveys) are common when somebody wants to buy a house.

Home inspectors (UK/Ireland: chartered surveyors) carry out home inspections.

After inspecting the property, the inspector then prepares and delivers a written report to the client. The client then uses the information to secure approval for a mortgage.

The client may also use the report to negotiate a lower price for the house.

Home inspectors can provide extensive information on the current state of properties. However, they do not guarantee their future condition or life expectancy.

Other types of inspections

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

  • Manufacturing

Inspections include measuring, testing, examining, or gauging the features of a process or product. The inspectors subsequently compare their findings with specific rules and regulations.

If a machine or equipment experienced a failure, inspectors may carry out a failure analysis. Not only do they determine what went wrong and why, but also what corrective measures the company must take. They may even determine liability.

  • Fire equipment

In most countries, regular inspections of fire equipment are compulsory. It is important to make sure they work properly if there is a fire.

In the United States, inspections of fire extinguishers by an individual must occur monthly. A servicing company must service the fire extinguishers at least once a year.

Fire inspection
The 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, gunpowder 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-shipments undergo inspections. The importer tells the vendor which inspection company should do the job.

The inspector takes photographs of the goods and writes a report. The report certifies that the documents’ description of the goods is accurate.

  • Government

A monitoring authority may carry out inspections of schools, restaurants, food sellers, and abattoirs (slaughterhouses).

Inspectors may also visit factories that process food, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, zoos, parks, the police, and building works.

  • Road vehicles

In most countries, owners must submit their vehicles to an inspection once a year. New and fairly new cars are usually exempt.

  • Engineering, mechanics

Mechanical inspections determine whether structures or items of machinery are safe and reliable. In Europe, entities involved in engineering inspections 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

A medical inspection refers to a doctor checking a patient visually. The doctor observes the patient’s nutritional state or weight, hair distribution, breathing rate, body features, and symmetry appearance. The doctor also observes the patient’s gait, speech, and chest movements during respiration.

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: “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.” (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. The inspection may involve just one inspector or a team.

Derivatives of “inspect”

The word “inspection” is a derivative of “inspect.” There are many derivatives of “inspect.” Below, you can see some of them, their meanings, and how we can use them in a sentence:

  • Inspect (verb)

To examine closely, assess, or scrutinize something thoroughly.
Example: “The quality control team will inspect each product before it leaves the factory.”

  • Inspection (noun)

The act of carefully examining or evaluating something to ensure its quality, safety, or compliance.
Example: “The annual safety inspection revealed several minor issues that needed attention.”

  • Inspective (adjective)

Pertaining to inspection; characterized by close examination.
Example: “The manager conducted an inspective review of the project documentation.”

  • Inspectively (adverb – this term is rarely used)

In a manner that involves close scrutiny or examination.
Example: “She observed the machinery inspectively, checking for any signs of wear.”

  • Inspector (noun)

A person responsible for conducting inspections, verifying compliance, and ensuring standards are met.
Example: “The building inspector found a structural flaw in the foundation.”

  • Inspected (adjective)

Having undergone inspection; checked for quality or correctness.
Example: “The inspected documents were deemed accurate and complete.”

  • Inspectability (noun)

The quality or state of being capable of inspection.
Example: “The software’s inspectability allowed for efficient debugging.”

  • Inspectable (adjective)

Able to be examined or scrutinized.
Example: “The packaging was designed to be easily inspectable for damage.”

Two Videos

These two educational videos come from our sister channel on YouTube – Marketing Business Network. Using easy-to-understand vocabulary and examples, they explain what “Inspection” and “Quality Control” mean.

  • What is an Inspection?

  • What is Quality Control?