A Well-designed 5 Why Root Cause Analysis Process for Proactive Safety Management
Blog | March 14th, 2022

A Well-designed 5 Why Root Cause Analysis Process for Proactive Safety Management

At ComplianceQuest, we recently published a Whitepaper titled “Why Your Enterprise Needs a QHSE with an Integrated ‘5 Whys’ Root Cause Analysis Tool”.

The paper covered the following topics in-depth:

  • Why the ‘5 Why’ framework is widely used to improve both quality and safety management
  • The advantage of being proactive when it comes to safety, taking preventive measures to mitigate safety risks
  • A step-by-step approach to conduct a 5 Why Root Cause Analysis (RCA) process to improve safety management
  • Easy access to data while conducting an RCA
  • The need for a next-generation platform that is data-driven, collaborative, and flexible

From a safety perspective, the RCA process is recommended by various regulatory bodies to build an organization-wide safety culture and drive continuous improvement of safety efforts.

It helps with the following aspects:

  • Correctly and comprehensively defining the safety hazard (potential or current) you’re tackling
  • The RCA can be conducted either to analyze a safety incident or even near-misses or safety observations
  • Performing a system-wide gap assessment, bringing together all the departments to gather evidence and decide the next steps based on data, insights, and detailed analysis
  • There could be more than one root cause, and therefore uncovering all of them is important
  • Listing the multiple suggested solutions, identifying associated risks, timeline, and resources needed for implementation, then establishing a corrective action strategy
  • Visualizing the path to the root is important and requires assessing problems and tracing them back to the starting point. A data-driven process, supported with the right tools for collaboration makes this easier

Taking action on Safety Observations

While there are several methods to conduct an RCA, 5 Why is the most popular.

In the 5 Why process, the root cause of a problem is identified by drilling down with the question “Why?”

For instance, an assembly line worker may report a safety observation from the shop floor. It may read something like this: “It looks like this equipment is due for maintenance. While there are no immediate safety hazards, I feel that any further delays may heat the machine more than it should.”

Using the 5 Why process, the plant head analyzes the safety observation by pulling in data on when the maintenance was last done.

The first “why” addresses the causes of the problem that is being investigated. In this case – Why was the maintenance not done on time? It may have been delayed because of the non-availability of a certified engineer. The plant head after noticing this will send in two separate requests.

  • One, to identify a certified service engineer and schedule the maintenance.
  • Another request would be to rejig the equipment management process to send a notification to him when a piece of equipment is not maintained as per schedule.

The latter is a proactive step to drive continuous improvement of the safety management workflow.

Chances are there the plant head may ask another “Why”:
Why wasn’t preventive maintenance scheduled? Are there more machines that need service?

By asking more and more “Whys”, we’re able to not only identify the cause of the problem at hand but also get to the root cause.

Key Advantages of the “5 Why” Method

The 5 Why Analysis method was introduced by Sakichi Toyoda of Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1930s. It can be used in various business situations that involve human factors or interactions. Some of the advantages of this method include:

  • It is easy to learn and use
  • It allows for quick identification of the root cause
  • It helps teams determine the relationship between different root causes of a problem
  • It doesn’t require statistical analysis, which can make the process of identifying the root straightforward

By using the 5 Why RCA method, you can establish a culture of problem-solving by introducing a simple yet effective method that anyone can use. This can lead to a more proactive approach for problem prevention and continuous improvement of your organization’s processes.

Best Practices for Conducting a 5 Why Analysis

From a safety management standpoint, a problem may be reported in an organization from one of the following processes:

  • Safety incidents
  • Safety observations or near-misses
  • Safety risk analysis

Since a problem may have its origin elsewhere, drilling down and asking the right questions is not a boardroom activity but requires the shop floor people, the safety team, and other stakeholders to get involved.

A typical and effective process would include:

  • Assembling a team
  • Defining the safety issue with clarity (problem)
  • Starting the ‘Why’ process
  • Asking the subsequent “Whys”

The Importance of Integrating the 5 Why Method with a Modern EHS Platform

While 5 Why is one of the most commonly used root cause analysis methods, it is typically done manually using a paper-based approach which makes it less effective. The manual process complicates the collaboration between the different team members that are conducting the investigation.

It also makes documentation of the investigation much more challenging because it requires that the data and findings generated from the 5 Why analysis be added manually into the EHS platform, with important files, notes, and documents remaining undocumented.

A manual approach also leads to increased chances of miscommunication and lack of collaboration while planning corrective or preventive actions. Ideally, you want a 5 Why method that is digitally integrated with your organization’s EHS solution.

5 Why Tool from ComplianceQuest: Data-Driven and Collaborative

Figure 1 screenshot of ComplianceQuest’s built-in 5 WHY RCA tool

Because of the benefits of digitizing your root cause analysis can have, ComplianceQuest has introduced the ‘5 Why Whiteboard’ feature that:

  • Allows global hybrid teams to easily collaborate to conduct an effective RCA. A facilitator can share their screen during the collaborative meeting with other team members and document the details on the 5 Why whiteboard during the brainstorming session.
  • The 5 Why dashboard has two key features. One, teams can consider multiple causes for the same incident. Two, it supports “unlimited whys” – teams can ask as many questions as needed for each possible cause.
  • The users can create action plans or assign them to the appropriate team members using the CQ 5 Why whiteboard and set due dates from the same page after the root cause is documented. The actions to be taken will appear (as notifications) in the EHS system for specific users.
  • The root cause(s) identified with the 5 Why RCA can be classified using category, sub-category, and code. Any of the criteria can be used to create Pareto and trending analysis charts for identifying systemic issues.

The 5 Why Whiteboard can help increase the effectiveness of a corrective or preventive action taken in response to an incident or safety observation. It also promotes the use of best practices across teams and minimizes variations in how RCA is performed. Documentation can also be standardized.

The key benefits of ComplianceQuest’s 5 Why tool include:

  • Effective: allows teams to get to the core of even complex problems
  • Collaborative: can be used during meetings to allow close collaboration
  • Unified and Accessible: for easier approval and documentation
  • Intuitive UI: very easy to use and work on for teams
  • Built-In Dashboard: users can directly assign tasks and corrective actions
  • Complete Investigation: the ability to add multiple paths (causes) in an investigation

Also, one can download the detailed 5 Why RCA document as a PDF and share it with users who do not have access to the 5 Why Whiteboard such as external regulatory bodies like FDA that might be auditing the system.

Overall, integrating the 5 Why Root Cause Analysis with the EHS can help in many ways, including the following:

  • Enable collaboration between different teams
  • Improved document management
  • Improve tracking, storage, and access
  • Loopback to the source
  • Monitor progress and track KPIs
  • Time and cost-effective
  • To request a demo of CQ’s 5 Why RCA tool, click here:

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