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Root cause analysis explained

Root Cause Analysis Explained

There are three ways of dealing with recurrent problems.

We can:

  1. Ignore them.
  2. Perform a temporary fix.
  3. Get to the bottom of why they’re happening in the first place.

If we take the first option, the problem will never be solved and could escalate. If we take option two, it is the equivalent of painting over a stain or sticking a piece of tape over a leak and hoping it will hold – you’re treating the symptoms, but not the cause.

Taking the third option, i.e. analysing the root cause, is the most time consuming, but should allow you to take steps to ensure that the problem never occurs in the future.

Root Cause Analysis TreeWhy is it called Root Cause Analysis?

Picture a tree for a moment. All trees have a trunk, branches and leaves. These are parts that immediately spring to mind since they are the ones we can see. The part we don’t see is the root system which anchors the tree to the ground. This root system often occupies a far larger area than the tree itself. It also continues to grow even if the tree’s branches have had a hard pruning. That’s why the system of drilling down to get to the heart of an issue is called Root Cause Analysis.

Following an audit, it’s likely that you will need to perform corrective actions in order to conform with BRC or ETI Regulations/Codes of Practice. But simply performing a corrective action without tackling the real reason why it’s h­­­appening doesn’t mean that the issue won’t recur at a later date. For a Corrective Action to be effective ­we should always examine the root cause of the problem.

Getting to the heart of the problem

There are a number of different ways of identifying root causes. Cause and Effect diagrams, also called Root Cause Fishbone diagram‘Fishbone Diagrams’, are a useful tool. They examine variations in six main categories: People, Methods, Machines, Materials, Measurements and Environment in order to determine potential areas where product defects could occur.

Another useful and quick method is called the ‘5 Whys’. As the name suggests, this entails asking five consecutive questions to reach a conclusion. For example:

Why did the product have to be recalled?

Because several consumers reported finding insects in the product


Because we found an infestation of flies in the factory


Because they’ve been breeding behind one of the processing lines


Because there is a crack in the floor and damp has got in.


Because there haven’t been regular maintenance inspections.

So the root cause for the contamination of the product is a lack of regular inspections.

The above is a very simplified example. Often there is more than one root cause for a non-conformance, but generally speaking, p­­­roblems occur for one of three reasons:

  • Physical or technical failure
  • Human errors
  • Failures relating to systems, operating procedures or decision-making

Honesty is extremely important when undertaking root cause analysis, so for it to be effective individuals must not feel that blame will be apportioned to any answer they might give to questions asked. The focus should very much be on systems rather than staff.

Specialist Root Cause Analysis course

If you’re a Production, Quality or Technical Manager, or your job entails dealing with systems management in the workplace, our one-day Root Cause Analysis course might prove invaluable in preparing for your next BRC audit. It’s also suitable for HR Managers dealing with corrective action plans for Ethical Audits.

The course explains the process of Root Cause Analysis; demonstrates how to identify the root cause issues and how to put in place preventative measures to meet BRC Standard requirements. As with all our courses, we illustrate the key learning points with practical industry examples. There is also a workshop session at the end of the day so you can put into practise the techniques you’ve learned.

Our Root Cause Analysis course