Auditing and inspection are two critical tools that organizations apply to ensure compliance, policies, procedures and products. It is not uncommon to perceive these tools of auditing and inspection to be the same thing. Even though there are similarities these tools have different intent. Traditionally, auditing is considered proactive under quality assurance while inspection is reactive under quality control. The duration and scope are the most significant differences.

These differences are highlighted within the definitions documented in ISO9000: 2015.


systematic, independent, and documented process for obtaining objective evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which the audit criteria are fulfilled.

Note 1 to entry: The fundamental elements of an audit include the determination of the conformity of an object according to a procedure carried out by personnel not being responsible for the object audited.


determination of conformity to specified requirements.

Note 1 to entry: If the result of an inspection shows conformity, it can be used for purposes of verification.

Note 2 to entry: The result of an inspection can show conformity or nonconformity or a degree of conformity.

The notes provide additional clarity on the difference. Determination of conformity is an output of both terms. But an audit requires conformity of an object in association with a procedure carried out by an auditor. This highlights that competence is a necessity for an auditor and that a procedure must be present. This does not imply that competence and procedures are not required in inspection but may not be required under specific conditions. These conditions could include conducting inspections using sensors or vision systems which often do not include an operator or inspector.

These tools and their definitions are not only utilized as a quality tool but have applications across the organization. Auditing is used to determine conformity to access financial statements are accurate and to identify risks. Inspection of these documents is conducted to determine compliance with regulatory and legal requirements.

Safety is another area where audits and inspections are conducted. In fact, safety audits have three primary objectives:

  • Ensure the safety program is being followed.
  • Identify risks in the safety program.
  • Ensure proper documentation is maintained as evidence.

A safety audit could be compared to performing routine maintenance on one’s automobile. The safety inspection would be checking the oil level or tire pressure on your automobile. Thus, safety inspections are a less rigorous process for identifying nonconformities or hazards and their potential impact. These inspections are often performed in shorter time periods and more frequently. It is not uncommon that the frequency is daily, weekly, or monthly. In businesses or manufacturing these inspections may include verification of fire extinguishers, eye wash stations etc. In restaurants, inspections are often conducted of their restrooms.

Let’s highlight some of the more significant differences between inspection and an audit.

It is important to point out that auditing and inspections are not mutually exclusive; many organizations conduct them concurrently to optimize resources. Since an audit is more formal than an inspection, the end of an audit has additional requirements. The first is providing verbal feedback, which is typically given to the management team. This feedback is included in the formal report. The formal report may include findings, which require action. These actions are often referred to as corrective action, which has specific requirements to be addressed within a time requirement. An audit is not considered complete until all the corrective actions have been completed and deemed effective. This is significantly different to an inspection, which is often considered complete when documentation is submitted and findings communicated.