What is Corrective Action vs Preventive Action (Preventative Action)?

Any company using a Quality Management System (QMS) knows how important Corrective and Preventive Actions are to continual improvement and customer satisfaction.

Especially, if that QMS is based on ISO 9001:2015, the international standard that specifies requirements for a QMS.

According to ISO 9001, the differences between Corrective (also known as risk-based thinking) and Preventive actions are:

8.5.2 Corrective Actions: “The organization shall take action to eliminate the causes of nonconformities in order to prevent a recurrence.”

8.5.3 Preventive Actions: “The organization shall determine action to eliminate the causes of potential nonconformities in order to prevent their occurrence.”

In simple terms, corrective action prevents recurrence, while preventive action prevents occurrence. Corrective action is carried out after a nonconformity has already occurred, whereas preventive action is planned with the goal of preventing a nonconformity in its entirety.

Corrective vs Preventive Example

Let’s say that the nonconformity is breaking your phone screen. Putting a screen protector or a case on your phone would be a preventive action. Purchasing a phone case to prevent additional breakage would be the corrective action.

The key here is that fixing the broken screen is neither a preventive action nor a corrective action. It is a solution. This is because corrective and preventive must be actions taken towards preventing a nonconformity from happening, not fixing the nonconformity itself. It is important not to confuse these actions as solutions.

Notice how buying a phone case is both a part of preventive and corrective action? As long as the solution prevents recurrence or occurrence, there is no one action that exclusively belongs to either preventive or corrective.

Corrective and Preventive Action For Continual Growth

Corrective and preventive actions are meant to stick. They are solutions that need to be carried out long-term.

But how?

One way of ensuring continuous improvement through corrective and preventive action is to focus on the check step of the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. Reviewing the results from the Do stage is essential to adopting new processes and ensuring that process owners do not backslide into the old way of doing things.

In addition, a root cause analysis may be helpful in correctly identifying what kind of corrective action should be taken. Drilling down to the root of nonconformity can unveil what actions would be most effective in preventing that nonconformity from happening again.

Graphic demonstrating examples of corrective and preventive actions

Corrective Action Process

  1. Identify the root cause of the nonconformity
  2. Determine the magnitude of that nonconformity
  3. Depending on the severity of that nonconformity, take appropriate action
    1. recalling products
    2. notifying customers
    3. downgrading or scrapping product
  4. Follow up with the actions taken and ensure that the correction is effective and recurrence has been prevented

Preventive Action Process

  1. Map out the different possible nonconformities that may occur on the shop floor
  2. Take proactive steps to create an action plan for those possible nonconformities
    1. Documented management system and procedures
    2. Process Audits
    3. Clearer Work Instructions
    4. Additional Training
    5. Frequent Communication between Involved Teams
    6. Management Review

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