If the preventive action clause in the management standards confuses you, join the club! Most people find this one confusing – “I record the problems (non conformances) AND I fix them (short term corrective actions) AND I address the root causes of problems (long term corrective actions). What more do they want?”

All three of the most popular management systems – ISO 9001 Quality, AS4801 OHS, and ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems have a preventive action clause. Here is the one from ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems.

8.5.3 Preventive Action

The organization shall determine action to eliminate the causes of potential nonconformities in order to prevent their occurrence. Preventive actions shall be appropriate to the effects of the potential problems.A documented procedure shall be established to define requirements for:
a) determining potential nonconformities and their causes,
b) evaluating the need for action to prevent occurrence of nonconformities,
c) determining and implementing action needed,
d) records of results of action taken, and
e) reviewing the effectiveness of the preventive action taken.

Corrective Actions vs Preventive Actions. What is the Difference?

Corrective action is taken to eliminate an existing problem (non conformance) to prevent recurrence. Preventive action is taken to eliminate the cause of a potential non conformance or other undesirable situation, to prevent occurrence. In short, with corrective actions the problem has already occurred, with preventive actions it hasn’t.

Where do I Find Preventive Actions?

Your management system generates plenty of information that can be reviewed in the search for potential problems. I’m thinking of inspection and test data, service reports, supplier performance, incident reports, emergency drills, customer satisfaction feedback, management review records, lessons learned from past projects, statistical process control charts, and audit results.

Whilst preventing potential quality/WHS/environmental related nonconformities from occurring is the focus of the standards, I find it very useful to think of preventive action in a wider context – the entire business. Think in terms of the actions needed to prevent things like: loss of market share, loss of product profitability, loss due to lack of product or service diversity, loss of business opportunities due to lack of capacity, inadequate facilities or equipment or staff, out-of-date technology or information systems, and loss of key personnel. These may have far more serious consequences than those in the management system.

If people forget about anything in their management system they forget about this clause. Try placing a discussion on preventive actions in your management review meeting agenda (don’t forget to record it in your minutes). Or program a quarterly review of data in which you look for trends and record that this review has occurred even if it doesn’t generate preventive actions.

Where do I Document it?

Please note that the standard says you must document how you handle preventive actions in a procedure. You could describe this in a standalone procedure or combine it with your corrective action procedure or management review procedure.
If you find the need to take preventive action, record them in your corrective action system. Now the two are tied together. That’s neat.

If you’d like some guidance or need a sounding board please email me at liz.cole@groweq.com.au. Alternatively, visit my website where you’ll find my Top 5 Essential Tips and free ISO 9001 procedures.