When you’re investigating a workplace accident, it’s important to remove the immediate hazard, such as a faulty piece of machinery or an unstable shelf. But even more crucial is figuring out the underlying cause of the problem.
A root cause analysis (RCA) helps you determine core issues that led to the accident. When you know the root cause(s), you can correct them to prevent similar incidents going forward.
Outdated workplace processes are a common cause of accidents. Review or rewrite your policies and procedures using our free template as a guide.
What is a Root Cause Analysis (RCA)?
A root cause analysis refers to the process of identifying the underlying cause of an issue or incident. Whether you’re investigating an employee who crushed their foot when they dropped a heavy box or one who tripped over a cord in a poorly-lit office, an RCA goes beyond simply removing the immediate cause of the accident.
Performed near the end of an accident investigation, RCAs aim to determine the true cause of the problem, rather than just addressing the symptoms. A root cause is a fundamental cause that, had it not been present, the issue wouldn’t have occurred. Identifying an accident’s root cause and eliminating it should prevent the issue from recurring.
Why Conduct an RCA?
No matter what industry you’re in, workplace accidents, especially repeat accidents, disrupt the workplace. An employee gets hurt and the work environment feels tense. You may even face fines or a lawsuit.
Conducting a root cause analysis prevents similar accidents, and their consequences, from happening again. When you remove the root cause of a problem, your employees feel safer at work and you’ll be protected from costly legal fees or reputation damage.
RCAs aren’t just for workplace accidents, though. You can correct any type of incident with a root cause analysis. Use RCAs to resolve:
- Injuries and illnesses
- Near misses
- Physical security breaches
- Data security breaches and incidents
- Workplace violence
- Harassment, discrimination and bullying
- Quality control problems
- Processes and procedures
- Health and safety issues
- Equipment or tool failure and malfunction
Root Cause Analysis Steps
No matter what method or tool you use to conduct your root cause analysis, you should follow the same general steps. During the RCA process, watch out for employees who try to downplay root causes that place blame on their departments or that would require significant changes or funding to correct.
1. Define the Scope
Defining the specific issue you want to address increases the odds that you’ll find the root cause and correct it. For example, if an employee slips in some spilled oil and falls, the scope of the RCA would just include slips and falls that involve oil puddles. If you included every slip and fall accident, you probably wouldn’t remove the root cause of this particular incident.
2. Select a Team
Compile a team including employees who are familiar with the processes related to the problem. The victim’s manager and coworkers who have experience with the work can shed light on root causes best. While one person could conduct a root cause analysis on their own, brainstorming as a team works better.
3. Organize Data
Create a timeline to describe the accident. This will help you visually organize the investigation information and see where things went wrong.
4. Identify Contributing Factors
Next, add details to the timeline, asking why each event occurred. This helps you figure out factors that led to the accident.
5. Determine Root Causes
Then, ask why each contributing factor occurred. You may find the same root cause for multiple contributing factors.
6. Create a CAPA Plan
Write and implement a corrective and preventive action (CAPA) plan based on your findings. Include corrective actions to remove immediate hazards and preventive actions to reduce the risk of similar incidents in the future.
7. Review Changes
Assign and schedule corrective and preventive actions at the end of your RCA. The team should then report on and review changes to measure success.
Download our free root cause analysis methods cheat sheet to learn different ways to conduct your RCA.