I ended my previous blog by stating that there is a relationship between non-conformances (problems) and corrective actions (solutions). Clearly action is necessary to fix a problem and this action can take 2 forms – immediate corrective action and root cause corrective action. The names really say it all. You need to take immediate action to prevent the material or service from being used and to fix it. You need to take root cause corrective action to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Think of corrective actions in terms of human health. You have a heart attack. The ambulance arrives, gives you some medication, puts you on oxygen and takes you to hospital where interventional procedures are performed. These are the immediate corrective actions and they work – your life is saved. Phew! But you don’t want that experience again. You might no be so lucky next time. So you take root cause corrective actions.

These root cause corrective actions would be aimed at preventing another heart attack. A change in diet, more frequent exercise, less alcohol, and giving up smoking would be the corrective actions recommended by the doctor. So the actions taken by the paramedics and emergency staff are the band-aid solutions that stop the situation getting worse. The changes in lifestyle are the long term solutions that prevent another heart attack. Immediate corrective action and root cause corrective action.

ISO 9001 for Quality, ISO 14001 for the Environment, ISO 18001 and AS/NZS 4801 for WHS all require that you have a written corrective action procedure and keep records of the issues you identify and the actions taken. This procedure needs to explain how you prevent the recurrence of problems by:

  • Reviewing problems (including customer complaints).
  •  Determining what caused the problems – there may be several causes.
  • Determining the actions required to prevent a recurrence.
  • Implementing the action/s.
  • Recording the results of the action taken.
  • Reviewing whether the action was effective.

Most businesses find it a struggle to determine where to focus their long term corrective action efforts but it’s worth the effort. Preventing problems is generally cheaper than fixing them after they occur.

The good news is that you management system is already generating this information for you. For example, you could review the non-conformances (problems) you have recorded and look for trends – does the same supplier keep causing you grief? Does the same problem with keep occurring again and again? If so this indicates that the immediate corrective action you are taking (the band-aid solution) isn’t preventing the problem, it just makes it go away for a little while.

Same applies to incident and near miss reports. A review of them may show that near misses keep occurring on the same piece of equipment, for example, or at the same site. An analysis of environmental non-conformances may detect patterns or trends that shows faulty or missing procedures, lack of training, a failure to enforce the rules, and so on.

Another source of information is your customer complaints. As they say, a picture paints a thousand words so a graph might show that a particular service, product or product category causes more complaints than others and hence warrants root cause corrective action.

Sometimes the root cause of the problem is obvious, at other times it requires techniques such as fishbone diagrams, fault tree analysis, or the 5 whys to determine the true root cause, or causes, as often there is more than one.

Once found, the root cause must be fixed. Employees are a good source of ideas for solving problems so find ways to get them involved in the improvement process.

Above all, don’t go overboard with bureaucracy—simple methods often work quite effectively. The amount of planning and documentation needed for corrective actions will vary with the severity of the problem and its potential WHS, environmental, or quality impacts.

All the best – Liz