One of the last things you want to hear after a safety or quality incident is “I knew this would happen.”
Why is this statement so common when a problem occurs? Often, it’s a history of similar incidents, previous near-misses, or simply because the warning signs were always there. No matter the reason, it’s a sign that your corrective action process is not working.
With that in mind, let’s look at 7 golden rules of corrective action that will help boost your effectiveness and prevent problems before they happen.
1. Capture the Right Corrective Actions
The first golden rule of effective corrective action is to capture the right problems from the start. Many companies find themselves buried in corrective action requests because they put too many problems in the Corrective Action system. This makes it hard to process requests in a timely manner, allowing many risks to go unmanaged.
How do you fix the problem? During an audit or walk-through, ask yourself whether the issue can be fixed on the spot before logging it for formal corrective action.
2. Filter Out Unacceptable Risks
Even when you’re taking steps to slim down your list of corrective action requests, it’s still helpful to have a way to organize them other than due date. After all, just because something was entered into the system later doesn’t mean that it might not pose a bigger hazard than an earlier event.
The key is to prioritize by risk. When you assess risk of each item on your list, you can filter that list to identify ones that represent an unacceptable level of risk. How your company defines acceptable vs. unacceptable may vary, but this process will help speed up and standardize decision-making.
3. Ask Good Questions
This point speaks directly to root cause analysis. Making assumptions about the root cause before you begin your analysis is a common mistake, as is failing to ask deep enough questions to reveal the true cause of an event.
One of the simplest techniques to use at this step is to leverage the 5 Whys. By asking why several times in succession, you can uncover the different layers or symptoms contributing to a problem. It’s most useful when issues involve the human element, and sometimes you will need to go beyond 5 whys to get to the true root cause.
4. Be Honest with Yourself
Research shows underreporting is common when companies use incident data to measure performance of those responsible for maintaining incident records. Similarly, many managers aren’t willing to admit how their own processes, behaviors or attitudes may be contributing to problems.
Imagine someone who’s always been a leader in the department makes a costly mistake while rushing to meet a production target. Is the root cause that this person is truly uninformed or careless? That’s the implication if your solution is just to send the person back to employee training, which is one of the most common safety interventions.
A more honest approach would be to ask why that person was rushing around in the first place, acknowledging when unrealistic goals or mixed messaging is a contributing factor. Despite “safety first” messaging being so prevalent, as many as 1 in 3 workers believe productivity is more important than safety in the eyes of their employers. What message are you sending?
5. Avoid Punitive Measures
There’s a difference between accountability and punishment. It’s important to hold people responsible for their actions, but too often managers let their emotions take over.
While it’s only natural to freak out when something bad happens, this type of behavior discourages reporting. And when people don’t log hazards or incidents in the Quality Management System (QMS) or Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Management System, you lose visibility into the hazards just waiting to become incidents.
6. Close the Loop
Too often, people close out corrective actions without understanding whether that action actually worked. The solution here is rather simple, and that is performing a final risk assessment as part of your verification process.
If the risk of recurrence is reduced to acceptable levels, great. If not, you need to funnel it back to the top of your corrective action process.
7. Automate the Process
The final golden rule of corrective action is to automate the process. Relying on paper-based or manual spreadsheet systems to track corrective action leaves room for errors and bottlenecks, which is why so many companies are moving towards automated software.
Automated QMS or EHS Management Software keeps the entire corrective action process running smoothly from start to finish, routing requests, sending reminders and escalating overdue items. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, and without it the rest of the process will be that much harder.