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Root Cause Analysis (RCA): Central to Continuous Improvement

Nicole Radziwill

Root Cause Analysis is part of an ecosystem of tools and techniques that can help organizations harness the value from their EHSQ integrated management systems.  

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is one of several tools and techniques - including Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA), Control Plans and Corrective Actions (CAR or CAPA) - that can be used to uncover the reasons for safety incidents or near misses, occupational health issues, environmental issues like repeated violations and quality events like recalls and nonconformances. 

These tools can be extremely valuable when used proactively -- and in conjunction with one another. Here's how they might be used together:  

  1. Identify potential failure modes through a Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) exercise, OR experience actual failures or problems in operations, such as an out-of-control event initiated by Statistical Process Control (SPC). 
  2. If the issue is significant or systematic, after containment, launch a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) to investigate how to fix the problem rather than the symptoms. 
  3. When the root cause is determined, consider launching a Corrective Action (CAR or CAPA) to incorporate a more long-term fix. 
  4. Record the new risk profile (Severity, Opportunity, Detection) on the FMEA and see how overall risk has changed as a result of the CAR/CAPA effort. 
  5. Update the Control Plan with new controls for detection and/or prevention, so that this issue (and/or similar issues) don’t occur again. 



Corrective and preventive actions that emerge from taking a more strategic view, rather than finding and fixing symptoms as they occur, include things like improved designs, improved standard operating procedures (SOPs), streamlined processes, improved recordkeeping, better use of data and enhanced response to emerging issues.  


If you don’t use all of these tools yet, there’s no need to worry! Most organizations gradually introduce them one at a time, training staff while validating the results, to ensure that they drive value and become core capabilities. Continuous improvement, after all, is continuous. 

Additional Reading

Radziwill, N. (2018, Nov 19). Quality Architecture in SPC & FMEA: Use Strategic Systems Thinking and Core Tools to Get the Outcomes You Want. Intelex Blog. Available from  

Radziwill, N. (2019). Core Quality Tools Enable Control Plans. Intelex Community. Available from  

About the Author: Nicole Radziwill, Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain

Nicole Radziwill is the Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain at Intelex Technologies. Before Intelex, she was an Associate Professor of Data Science and Production Systems, Assistant Director (VP) End-to-End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and manager and consultant for several other organizations since the late 1990's bringing quality management to technologically-oriented operations. She is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) with a Ph.D. in Quality Systems from Indiana State University. Nicole serves as Editor of Software Quality Professional (SQP) journal and is a former Chair of the ASQ Software Division. She is an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) and Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB).



This material provided by the Intelex Community and EHSQ Alliance is for informational purposes only. The material may include notification of regulatory activity, regulatory explanation and interpretation, policies and procedures, and best practices and guidelines that are intended to educate and inform you with regard to EHSQ topics of general interest. Opinions are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Intelex. The material is intended solely as guidance and you are responsible for any determination of whether the material meets your needs. Furthermore, you are responsible for complying with all relevant and applicable regulations. We are not responsible for any damage or loss, direct or indirect, arising out of or resulting from your selection or use of the materials.

February 28, 2019 @ 09:30 AM EST Quality

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