One of the most confusing aspects for management representatives to get their heads round when taking on a quality system has to be the concept of Corrective, Preventative and Preventive action.  As they return weary eyed from their auditor course and laden with notes and forms they have to be clear which one to implement and when. I have recently had this conversation again with a client so thought it worth repeating here.

It’s here where we start

Corrective action is the one that invariably gets used first.  If you raise a non-conformance you tackle the one more often than not isolated product or service affected to get it resolved so the order can move forward.  If you raise a CAR on an audit then whatever sample you have viewed and taken as objective evidence to justify a CAR needs tackling.  Both these are immediate actions to stabilise the product, service or system.

Now system failures require you to prevent the problem recurring – it’s happened – but how do you ensure you are not faced with the same issue in the future.  That is the Preventative Action.  It might take a bit longer to both think of it, implement it and to test it remembering that you need something concrete to prove to yourself that it has worked.  It is worth adding that if your root cause analysis on your non-conformances reveals a recurring theme,and I recommend three occurrences over a short space of time here,  then you should move that issue onto a CAR as well because it is no longer an isolated instance.  There is no need for absolutely every non-conformance to lead to a CAR – unless of course the customer concerned demands it!

Don’t make this mistake

Just stating ‘staff to be retrained’ or ‘procedure to be changed’ or ‘additional data to be recorded’ isn’t sufficient on its own.  You need to be sure that changes have been implemented and followed so you need to use subsequent quality records as objective evidence. Perhaps in the above scenarios – a short test to demonstrate understanding; an audit on the problem area or a measure of the new data being recorded.  The other point to remember of course is that the action may fail to be effective in which case you need to start again and think of an alternative.

The missing piece

So where does Preventive Action come in?  The distinct difference here is that nothing has gone wrong with the product, service or system – yet!  However you have spotted a likelihood of failure unless you take action to prevent it.  So your inspectors are working OK but in dimly lit premises so you feel it is only a matter of time before their judgement is compromised so the lighting arrangements are reviewed; machinery or transport is overlooked and so struggling more and more to perform prompting for a maintenance schedule to be created or a member of staff is clearly unsure of a new process so you quickly arrange additional training.

It is a totally different situation hence it should have its own place  – and form of course – in the system.  All aspects of ISO 9001 are featured in the free ISO 9001 Training Guide videos with samples available by clicking the link.

  1. I think if we analyze a nonconformity and we decide that corrective action is: ‘staff to be retrained’ is somehow wrong. ISO standards says that we should find the root cause of nonconformities…and if we draw the conclusion that staff isn’t trained sufficient we must ask ourselves ‘why our staff isn’t sufficient trained?’ and so on until we determin the ROOT CAUSE of nonconformites. Then we heve to immediatly correct the nonconformity (correction) and then to apply the corrective action to the root cause.


    • peterts says:

      Thank for your comment Marinel. I agree that on its own ‘Retraining’ isn’t adequate hence my addition of a test or something like that to demonstrate understanding, a process that is often overlooked. My root cause in this was that understanding had neither been achieved nor demonstrated following the previous training.

      I have assumed in the example that the trainer and member of staff are both capable. Clearly you might dig deeper and found that one or both are not which would give you another RCA and hence a different Corrective Action.


      • Chris Miller says:

        It is my understanding the words “preventive” and “preventative” are variations of the same word and have the same meaning. On that note, what is the difference between “corrective” and “preventative” action? You describe both as occurring after a nonconformity has been discovered. It sounds as if both are intended to prevent recurrences of the discovered nonconformity. Categorizing actions into three groups seems strange to me. Why not just two, “Preventive” (before a nonconformity), and “corrective” (after a nonconformity)? Any action is worthless if not meant to prevent repeat problems.


  2. peterts says:

    Fair comment Chris. Traditionally ‘preventive’ was always out on its own as being action taken before any non-conformance arose. You could see something might go wrong so you took action to prevent it. As for the others that’s where it gets interesting.

    With a non-conformance there are two requirements – tackle the immediate problem that has arisen then stop it happening again. I grew up being taught the first was ‘Corrective Action’ and the second ‘Preventative Action’ ( not the same as preventive in this context).

    Some now use the term ‘Correction’ followed by ‘Corrective Action’ instead hence it starts to get confusing.

    At the end of the day you need to sort the problem ; stop it happening again and, in addition, have the ability to spot issues before they fail so I guess I’d stick with three whatever you want to call them.


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