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?

preventive actionsWhat’s the Difference Between Corrective Actions and Preventive Actions?

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.

Top Ten Preventive Actions:

  1. Analyze process or product characteristics for negative trends that, if left alone, could drift into a nonconformity. Such analysis can be documented into a control plan.
  2. Install alarms to warn you when your process is drifting into a nonconformity. Statistical process control charts provide excellent alarms.
  3. Review nonconformances found in similar processes, products, or companies for ideas that could be applied to your business. Benchmarking similar companies is great for brainstorming preventive actions.
  4. Perform risk analysis to uncover latent hazards. Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a great tool for process risk analysis.
  5. Implement lean thinking to eliminate wastes, which are obvious signals of latent causes of future defects.
  6. Establish more rigorous training programs to continuously improve your employee’s skills. Regular training introduces new ideas into your organization that can be sources of innovation that prevent nonconformities.
  7. Introduce disaster recovery, security, and contingency plans for unpredictable situations, hazards, or safety conditions.
  8. Set up preventive maintenance & calibration control programs to ensure your equipment is always safe, available, and performing optimally.
  9. Begin supplier surveillance audits to assist your supply chain in delivering quality product to you consistently.
  10. Analyze your process capabilities to create a foundation for improvement. Use Capability Maturity Model (CMM) or Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) for inspiration.

What preventive actions do you take in your business to eliminate defects BEFORE they occur?