There are two types of actions in an ISO 9001 Quality Management System: Corrective action and preventive action. Many people struggle with just what preventive actions look like and how they differs from a corrective action. What’s funny about this discussion is how everyone tries to explain the difference as merely an interpretation of the words “occurrence?” and “potential?”
For example, the ISO standard definition states:
Corrective Action: action to eliminate the cause of a detected nonconformity and its recurrence.
Preventive Action: action to eliminate the cause of a potential nonconformity and its occurrence. But does this really clear it up for anyone?
Corrective action is performed on detected nonconformities. In other words, there are real defects that exist right now and action must be taken to stop them from ever happening again in the future. Most people get this and seem to understand the concept of real defects needing to be fixed — permanently, so they do not cause further aggravation. But what about preventive actions and how is it different?
People seem to get hung up on what a potential nonconformity is and how do you prevent it from ever occurring in the first place? Potential defects are defects that could happen. I think a better description would be to call these risks. Everyone understands the concept of risk at some level. If we keep using a dull blade on a saw, then we are taking a risk because at some point that blade is going to break.
Using a dull blade is a bad business practice, right? So what other bad business practices are you using in your business that you should fix to prevent a bad outcome (nonconformity) from occurring? Potential nonconformities are all around us in every business. The question is, how do you find potential nonconformities? The best way to find them is to look for them using common quality tools.
What preventive actions do you take in your business to eliminate defects BEFORE they occur?