What is a causal factor?

A causal factor can be defined as any “major unplanned, unintended contributor to an incident (a negative event or undesirable condition), that if eliminated would have either prevented the occurrence of the incident or reduced its severity or frequency. Also known as a critical causal factor or contributing cause.”

A cause influences a process. If the event isn’t related to a causal process, there can’t be a causal factor. For example, “an alteration of the ball (a mark by a pen, perhaps) is carried with it as the ball goes through the air. On the other hand, an alteration of the shadow (insofar as it is possible) will not be transmitted by the shadow as it moves along.”

What is a root cause?

A root cause is “a fundamental reason for the occurrence of a problem or event.” Analysts can look for the root cause of an event in order to prevent it from happening again in the future. The root cause is the primary driver of a process.


What is the difference between a causal factor and a root cause?

The most important part of the definition of “causal factor” is the word “contributor.” The causal factor isn’t the single factor that drove the event. Instead, a causal factor was one of a few influences. The event could still occur again or would have happened without the causal factor.

In fact, during a root cause analysis, analysts often use a technique called the “5 whys” to identify multiple causal factors until they find a root cause of an event.

Put simply, the root cause is the primary driver of the event, and causal factors are secondary or tertiary drivers.

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