Every management system requires a way for approaching non-conformities and potential non-conformities. Although many organizations are familiar with the preventive and corrective action processes, there is still some confusion on understanding the differences between them.
Both preventive and corrective actions are developed to improve an organization’s management systems, and their main difference can be identified by taking a closer look at their definition which is found in most of the ISO standards, including ISO 9001:
Corrective action: action to eliminate the cause of a detected non-conformity or other undesirable situation.
Preventive action: action to eliminate the cause of a potential non-conformity or other undesirable situation.
The main difference is that corrective actions are those required to address a non-conformity that has already occurred. In other words, the actions necessary to “clean up the mess”, determine the root cause(s) of the non-conformity and prevent it from happening again. On the other hand, preventive actions are the ones taken to prevent a non-conformity from ever occurring.
Some of the specific actions taken on each of these processes are:
- The root cause(s) of the non-conformity needs to be identified and documented.
- The effect of the non-conformity should be analyzed in order to determine its impact and the actions required to correct or neutralize the damage or possible damages.
- The whole system needs to be scanned to ensure that the non-conformity does not occur in other areas.
- Implement the actions that will prevent the non-conformity from reoccurring.
- Follow up on the actions must be done to determine its effectiveness.
- Proactive actions, such as risk assessments, failure modes and effects analysis, must be taken to identify potential non-conformities.
- The development of work instructions, documented procedures, training are examples of actions that are performed to prevent non-conformities.
- Other activities that are regularly carried out and are part of the preventive action process are audits, management reviews and inspections.
The number of corrective and preventive actions in an organization reflects its maturity. If an organization has more corrective than preventive actions it is a sign that more resources are being invested on trying to correct non-conformities that have already occurred. Moreover, when the number of preventive actions are greater than the corrective ones, it’s an indication that an organization is on the right track on successfully preventing non-conformities from ever occurring.
The ultimate goal regarding these actions are to have as many that are preventive and zero that are corrective. It is easier and less expensive for any organization to prevent a problem from happening than to clean up the mess after it has occurred.