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Inspector Competencies

What are the competencies required of a state regulatory inspector? It is surprising to find that there is no universally acknowledged body of inspector competencies. Instead, at local levels and at national levels there are widely varying expectations of what an inspector should be able to do. On the other hand, you might expect that with so many different regulation settings, from assisted conception to environmental standards we would there be a common set of inspector competencies?

Are Inspector Competencies Generic, Specialist or Both?

Inspection job descriptions and requirements emphasise sector/industry experience and knowledge. This is not surprising, when inspection judgements are often challenged on the basis of lacking in-depth and recent technical and sector knowledge. However, this leads many inspectorates to overlook the importance of generic inspection-competencies and instead focus heavily on technical and sector knowledge. This tendency is further supported in that generic inspection skills are rarely well documented, defined or understood.

In Regulation: Audit, Inspection, Standards and Risk we identify generic skills through the research literature and the inspection context. Inspection knowledge can be seen to have two elements, see diagram below. The inspector should possess industry specific skills and generic skills, it is not a matter of preferring one over the other they are both essential; inspector competency results from the overlap of these.


There is a growing awareness of the benefit of developing the full inspection skill base, revealed by the increasing number of inspector competency frameworks. Below the most significant of these are listed with a description of its relevance.

OECD 2014. Regulatory Enforcement and Inspections, OECD Best Practice Principles for Regulatory Policy. Paris: OECD Publishing.

This report recognises that inspection has core activities that are addressed through evidence-based inspection, use of third parties for compliance, risk focus and proportionality, responsive regulation, fairness of process and increased professionalism of inspectors. The report states:

Inspectors should be trained and managed to ensure professionalism, integrity, consistency and transparency: this requires substantial training focusing not only on technical but also on generic inspection skills, and official guidelines for inspectors to help ensure consistency and fairness (2014: p. 14)

Better Regulation Delivery Office, 2014. The Common Approach To Competency For Regulators.

The approach, developed by UK regulators recognises core and generic regulatory skills:

  • Assess risks
  • Plan, organise and prioritise
  • Promote compliance exercising professional judgement
  • Advise and influence
  • Conduct interventions
  • Enforce relevant legislation
  • Work effectively with business
  • Work effectively with citizens, partners and stakeholders
  • Use and manage knowledge effectively
  • Personal development, innovation and learning

International Standards Organisation 2012. 17020:2012 Conformity assessment — Requirements for the operation of various types of bodies performing inspection. ISO.

 ISO 17020:2012 is a widely used international standard, recently revised, setting out requirements for inspection bodies including their independence and impartiality. The standard makes it clear that inspection

‘normally requires the exercise of professional judgement’ … ‘in particular when assessing conformity with general requirements.’

Together with the requirements for ongoing inspector training in methods and techniques the ISO17020 supports the use of required inspection criteria from published standards.

Ofsted 2012. Qualifications, Experience and Standards Required of Additional Inspectors Undertaking Inspections on Behalf of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills. London: Ofsted.

This document contains a detailed breakdown of major generic skills.

Further relevant curriculum and competency frameworks are given below.

INECE 2009. Principles of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Handbook. International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement.

US Department of Labor. 2003. Competency Model for Mine Safety Inspector/Specialist [Online]. US Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration. [Accessed 2015].

Kaml, C., Fogarty, K. J., Wojtala, G., Dardick, W., Bateson, A., Bradsher, J. E. & Weiss, C. C. 2013. The development of a standards-based national curriculum framework for regulatory food safety training in the United States. Journal of environmental health, 76, 38-42.

USFDA 2013. Food Code. In: US DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (ed.). Virginia: US Department of Commerce.