Audits and Inspections: Knowing the Difference

Audits and Inspections
October 14, 2015

As the Product Manager for at Enablon, I talk to clients frequently. Whether I am inquiring about market requirements during one-on-one calls or speaking at SPF sessions, it is always a pleasure to listen to clients and learn more about their main challenges. One thing I have observed is that some confusion exists about the purpose of audits versus inspections, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably without realizing they are very different things. In this post, I seek to clarify the purposes of audit and inspection and to provide a better understanding of the differences between the two.

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Audits assess compliance

Audits are typically performed less frequently than inspections. The goal of an audit is usually to assess overall compliance with one or more regulations, internal policies, or other compliance drivers. Audits are typically conducted by a third-party to the site being audited, which could include an auditor from a corporate department or an auditor completely external to the company. Audits also allow a company to “self-check” to make sure everything is fine. Corporate-level compliance managers and audit program managers are constantly seeking ways to automate and improve the management of audits.

Inspections are compliance tasks with a checklist

Inspections are typically the recurring completion of checklists by facility-level personnel, such as facility EHS coordinators and managers. Inspections can be thought of as compliance tasks with checklists. For example, an inspection can be a targeted verification to see if a specific equipment or process is operating in a safe and environmentally harmless way. Corporate- or site-level EHS managers and coordinators, who need to implement a compliance system within a company or site, seek ways to improve the way inspections are conducted.

How to tell the difference?

It is helpful to think of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle to differentiate between audits and inspections. At a high level, inspections are a “do” and audits are a “check”. An inspection is typically something that a site is required to do by a compliance obligation. An audit is the process of checking that compliance obligations have been met, including that the required inspections have been done. For example, an environmental operating permit may require a facility to do an inspection weekly on a piece of equipment to ensure it is operating correctly. The corporation may then conduct an annual audit to check compliance with the requirement to do the inspections.

We hope this post gave you a better understanding of audits and inspections.