ISO 9001 – Difference between correction and corrective action
In any management system, including a Quality Management System (QMS), the one concept that people continually confuse more than any other is the difference between “correction” and “corrective action.” This is problematic, because this understanding is the foundation of a good corrective action system, and without knowing this distinction it is difficult to implement a successful corrective action procedure.
This concept was first introduced with respect to ISO 9001 in a blog post about the corrective action process that outlined the Seven Steps for Corrective and Preventive Actions to support Continual Improvement. Since this article focused on how to use the seven steps to perform successful corrective action, it is worthwhile focusing a bit on how this differs from a correction.
What is the difference?
Any time you have any nonconformity in your QMS you will be taking steps to correct the nonconformity, but what you correct is the difference between a simple correction and a corrective action. With a correction you will address the most obvious problem so that you can remove the nonconformity and make the product or service acceptable to use. This is a correction.
Conversely, if you look at a problem that has resulted in a nonconformity, and investigate the causes of that problem until you understand the cause – which was the start of the chain that resulted in the nonconformity (known as the root cause) – and you take actions to correct this root cause so that it cannot happen again, you have taken a corrective action for the problem.
This is best understood with some examples:
Case Study 1: Late delivery service
You find that a customer is unhappy with your delivery service because a package is late in arriving. You make a correction for this by finding the package and delivering it as soon as possible, and follow up by offering a partial refund to the customer to maintain customer satisfaction even with this error. This would be your correction; however, if during your investigation you find that this is happening to other customers and you decide to take action to prevent it from happening again, you will look further for the root cause of the problem.
If during this root cause analysis you find that packages have been misidentified and sent to the wrong area of the city for delivery, which caused them to become lost and delayed, you might implement additional steps to verify that the identification on packages is correct before they are sent for delivery, potentially including updates to your computer tracking system to make this easier and error free. This would be your corrective action.
Case Study 2: Manufactured part is too long
You find that a part you are manufacturing is not acceptable because it is too long to fit when assembled. Initial investigations show that the part was made correctly according to the drawing and the drawing dimension was incorrect. You would make two corrections in this case: rework the part to make it the correct length and correct the drawing so that it was correct for the next time you made the part. These actions are your corrections.
If you have also realized that this is not the only occurrence, and in fact you have had many incorrect drawings over the recent months, you might investigate the root cause of why the drawings are incorrect. If during this investigation you found that you were missing a step in your drawing review where you compare the drawing dimension in a computer model to make sure it fits, you would fix the root cause and introduce this step as your corrective action to the systematic problem. This completes your corrective action for the issue.
How does this help with continual improvement of the QMS?
Knowing the difference between correction and corrective action is important, but even more important is knowing when to use each. Applying a correction to every non-conformance you find is important, but it is not necessary to perform corrective action every time. If you save this process for when you have a systemic problem, rather than when you have a small one-time issue, you will find that your corrective action system is used more effectively to drive for real continual improvement in your organization.
Enroll in this free online training: ISO 9001 Foundations Course to learn more about corrective actions.