ISO 45001 Blog

Using corrective actions to eliminate nonconformities and drive health & safety improvements

Corrective action is an important part of any management system, and in an Occupational Health & Safety Management System (OH&SMS), this process is critical to identify and address the root causes of problems you find, which is why this has been an integral part of OHSAS 18001 since it was first published. In previous articles we have addressed how corrective action works in the OH&SMS, such as Seven steps for corrective and preventive actions in the OH&S management system and 5 steps to take once a corrective action is initiated in your OHSAS 18001, but these do not highlight how this process relates to nonconformity and improvement, which is helpful to understand when implementing a corrective action system for the OH&SMS.

How is corrective action related to a nonconformity?

So, how does corrective action relate to a nonconformity? Quite simply, one of the main ways to identify the need for corrective action within your OH&SMS occurs when you have a nonconformity. When you have a problem occur, such as an accident that causes injury to an employee, you will need to first address the immediate cause of that accident as part of your incident correction. However, it may then be necessary to look further into the root cause of that incident, the source of that immediate cause, so that you can correct the root of the problem to ensure that the accident never happens again, thereby eliminating the nonconformity in the future. This is where corrective action is linked to your nonconformity processes.

For instance, you may have an accident with a machine that is caused by a guard not being in place. Part of your immediate response is to replace the guard and remind employees of the need for the guard, but this does not address the root cause of the nonconformity. Why was the guard removed in the first place? When you use your corrective action system you may find that the guard is causing problems in how the machine functions, or the guard is not properly installed and is coming off on its own. It is by addressing the root problem that you prevent the nonconformity from coming back in the future.

To better understand nonconformities in the OH&SMS see this article on How to handle nonconformities in OHSAS 18001.

How does corrective action drive improvement?

Although your main mechanism for continual improvement within the OH&SMS is by using your OH&S objectives, you can also demonstrate improvement through your corrective action system. This is easily seen by pointing out in the situation above that the health & safety of the employees is improved by ensuring that the root cause of the guard being removed is addressed, but corrective action can also lead to other methods of driving improvement.

During your root cause investigations, and implementation of corrective action plans, you may encounter and identify information that, when acted upon, could lead to improvement of the processes. Do you see that many accidents are caused by a similar problem, such as guarded machinery? Maybe you need to initiate an improvement project dealing with the machinery guarding in your facility. Are you addressing many lost-time incidents in your office with root causes of ergonomic issues? If so, then investigating the benefits of an ergonomic program may be an improvement project that you want to pursue. Identifying improvement projects from your corrective action investigations is a great way to drive improvement in your company.

Corrective action – More than a necessary evil

Sadly, many companies have difficulties with the corrective action process, and because this is the case, they see corrective action as a necessary but valueless part of their management system – only included because OHSAS 18001 requires that it be in place. This can be from misunderstanding the process, from using it for unimportant activities simply to say that the process is in use, or by not performing adequate follow-up for effectiveness so that the problem still returns even when corrective action is supposed to have been taken. For whatever reason, if the corrective action process does not give adequate results, people lose confidence that the process is worthwhile.

However, if used properly to address the most important nonconformities, and proper effectiveness is verified, the corrective action process can become a great tool to prevent recurring problems and identify areas where continual improvement of the OH&SMS can be achieved. By using your corrective action process well, you can make your OH&SMS work better for your organization – and gaining benefit is why you implemented the management system in the first place, isn’t it?

To help you track and handle all of your nonconformities found during certification audit, and the corrective actions put in place, you can use this Conformio compliance software.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality, and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.