How to proceed once a corrective action is initiated in the EMS
The corrective action process is critical to the operation of any EMS (Environmental Management System), especially if certified against ISO 14001:2015. In one of our key early articles entitled Corrective and Preventive Actions to Support Environmental Management we examined the main steps that should occur around a corrective action process to ensure that it is effective; however, many organizations seem unsure as to how to proceed after the definition of the corrective action in order to ensure that the action is effective and the root cause defined in order to prevent reoccurrence. So, what needs to happen to ensure we can consider the corrective action effective?
Corrective action, what comes next?
While a corrective action lays the foundation for positive change, it also opens the organization and its EMS to risk. So, what steps do we have to take to ensure our corrective action is effective? Let’s look at this in some detail:
- Assess the risk – Any change in your EMS will initiate an element of risk, and likewise opportunity. After a corrective action, it is wise to define both; for example, will the change you make through the corrective action initiate change that may affect your product/service in the future or when it is used by a customer? Likewise, will the change you make perhaps provide the opportunity to implement similar changes over another of the organization’s product range, making yet more environmentally positive changes?
- Carry out changes – This sounds obvious, but needs to be planned and carried out effectively. Ensuring that the corrective action is carried out to effect change on all desired levels and products is critical, as is communicating effectively in cases where the corrective action is connected to an engineering, process, or service change that needs to be understood by multiple employees. At times like this, utilizing the help of your top management team can help you, as examined in the article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015.
- Verify effectiveness and address the root cause – This can be a misunderstood and time-consuming process, but it is wise to verify not only the results of the corrective action, but also that the root cause of the problem itself has been eliminated. Only when it is certain that the root cause has been dealt with can the corrective action itself have been said to be effective. In terms of root cause analysis, normally an issue will have multiple strands when an analysis is done, though it is sometimes possible to eliminate these strands with one action that will prevent reoccurrence. There are several methodologies available to define and address root cause analysis, such as using Agile methodologies or techniques such as Gannt charts or Fishbone diagrams to help identify problem areas. These visual guides can be extremely effective, especially when involving newer or less experienced members of staff in your root cause analysis, as they can visually highlight a root cause very effectively. Whatever method your organization uses, it is wise to ensure that thorough analysis is done to ensure that all the relevant facts are considered when defining the root cause of your issue.
- Review the effectiveness – This is connected to the verification stage mentioned above, but in my experience, if a corrective action is addressing a critical element of your EMS, it may be wise to put a date on the corrective action itself at which time you can return to ensure that there has been no reoccurrence and you can close the action out, safe in the knowledge that the passage of time and repetition of your process has proven the process effective.
To learn more about risk and opportunity in the EMS, please see the article Risks and opportunities in ISO 14001:2015 – What they are and why they are important.
Corrective action – It all matters
As you can see, all parts of the corrective action require planning, execution, and consideration of risk, cause, and effect. There is nothing so demotivating for employees and stakeholders as to see a corrective action that does not fully address a problem and allows repetition through incorrect planning, inadequate resources, or poor identification of root cause. Each corrective action in your EMS should be treated almost as a self-contained project, where issues such as risk, opportunity, action required, resources, final outcome, and long-term effect to product, stakeholders, and service can be properly assessed. That way, your EMS results and the environment itself can benefit from your corrective action procedure for years to come.
Enroll in this free online training: ISO 14001 Foundations Course to learn more on nonconformities and corrective actions.