Corrective and Preventive Actions are key elements to a Quality Management System (QMS) that is focused on Continual Improvement and Customer Satisfaction. Indeed, any ISO 9000 type QMS should have this type of focus, unfortunately many do not.

It is important to properly use these two sub-systems when building a new QMS based on any quality standard, or revising an existing QMS. In order to do this, one must understand the difference between Corrective and Preventive Actions.

corrective and preventive actionsCorrective and Preventive Actions: Past vs. Future

Simply put, Corrective Action is based on a nonconformance event that has happened in the past. Preventive Action is based on preventing a nonconformance event in the future. Both are similar procedurally, but with the focus as described. Together, Corrective and Preventive Actions — typically referred to as CAPA (pronounced cap-uh) are integral parts of a continuous improvement program.

Both corrective and preventive actions should use some type of a log to record each event; a Corrective Action Log and a Preventive Action Log. These logs are useful for performing trend analysis and to determine if your actions are having the desired response.

Corrective and Preventive Actions will typically have a form that is used to record the details of the activity performed to satisfy the event; A Corrective Action Request (CAR, pronounced car, as in an automobile) and a Preventive Action Request (PAR, pronounced like the golf term, par).

Corrective Actions

Too often a company will fix a problem in their business process, say a customer complaint or product return, after the problem has occurred. This is typically product or event focused. Then the company will look at what they’ve done and say, “Well if we revise our shop router or procedure, this will not happen again.” They will label this second phase as Preventive Action.

While it is a future thinking type of activity, it is still Corrective Action because it is based on solving a problem that has already happened. A Corrective Action needs to focus on the Quality System, so in this example the systemic action taken is the revision of the shop router or procedure. This is Corrective Action.

Preventive Actions

Preventive Action activities should stand alone and not focus on past events. For example: Company XYZ has a Preventive Maintenance management program that requires manual data entry. It is working fine and there have not been any problems. However, it takes a lot of time to manage and does have a high potential for error or lost records. XYZ decides to purchase Preventive Maintenance software to manage this activity. Since the purchase is not based on problems that have happened and is focused on process control or making an improvement to the QMS, it is a Preventive Action.

A young functional Quality Management System should record and complete many more CAR’s than PAR’s. On an annual basis, a company may record only a few Preventive Action activities, while in the Corrective Action log many dozens of events are listed. Later has the quality system matures, you should see more preventive actions than corrective actions.

For audit purposes, a handful of Preventive Action events will demonstrate that this important part of the QMS is functional. A primary source of Preventive Action activities is the Management Review process where discussions about quality strategy, quality budget requests, and quality . Although the Management Representative, or Manager responsible for corrective and preventive actions, can also initiate and record Preventive Action activities.

Improved Business Processes

As one of the key elements to a QMS that will lead to improved processes, with a focus on continual improvements, it is important to use corrective and preventive actions. After all, is the goal to get a plaque on the lobby, or to have a viable and improving business?