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Continuous improvement of workplace safety is a regulatory requirement. As OSHA puts it – “continuous improvement is much better than delayed perfection.” The regulatory body recommends Continuous Improvement (CI) across the following four phases of safety programs:

  • Planning stage
  • During the implementation of safety processes
  • Monitoring and tracking of key performance indicators
  • Acting on the information and data that has been collected

There is no doubt about the fact that continuous improvement of health and safety processes helps build employee loyalty, reduces incident rates, and brings down the overall Cost of Safety. All these factors play a key role in enhancing the company’s reputation, financial performance, and overall business health.


Safety management is an ongoing process where there is a constant need to fine-tune and improve safety policies, processes, and workflows. For this, the top management needs to have access to data and a holistic view of what is happening across the lifecycle – to identify key risks and mitigate them with agility.

Often, though, businesses may end up reacting to a situation with quick-fix measures, and the underlying cause may remain unattended. Though it may contain a safety incident in the short term, this increases the risk of recurring.

A well-designed Root Cause Analysis (RCA) process – with the support of an underlying data-driven platform and collaborative features – is a critical part of safety management and continuous improvement.

For instance, a contractor visiting a high-risk site may enter the location to perform a task – without proper PPE. On the face of it, it may seem like negligence on the part of the contractor. Maybe, the staffing agency didn’t document the type of work to be done. However, the point of conducting an RCA is to get to the root of the situation, understand what actually happened, and fix it at the systemic level.

One of the popular ways to identify the root cause is the 5 Why method, which was first introduced by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries. It requires the problem to be clearly defined and then the question ‘Why’ asked multiple times till the root cause is identified.

For instance, in this case, the problem is that the contractor did not wear a PPE. Drilling down with 5 Why – ideally with the benefit of an automated RCA platform – may reveal a lack of sufficient training and awareness to be the root cause. Once identified, a plan of action to address the safety hazard can be established and implemented.

5 Whys: A Process-Based Approach to Identify Root Causes and Prevent Recurrence of Safety Events

In one manufacturing unit, hot work was performed without issuing a Permit to Work (PTW) to the worker performing the task. The worker was injured, but he escaped with minor burns. But the company wanted to ensure this didn’t happen in the future.

On reviewing using the 5 Why Method, it was found that the worker was a last-minute replacement. The PTW was issued to another worker, but it was automatically transferred to the new person who was assigned. By asking ‘5 Whys’ – the safety team realized that there was a gap in the PTW process and workflow; When a new worker was assigned, it took the previous worker’s training and certification as ‘OK’ and let the permit remain valid. However, that should not have been the case. Once a new person was assigned for hot work, the checklist to issue a permit had to be retriggered to ensure all necessary training and documentation was shared with the new person.

In most scenarios, 5 Why is a collaborative process where team members and stakeholders from different functions come together to identify the root cause. A digital whiteboard helps the people involved to drill-down several levels till the root cause is identified. For the process to succeed, it is essential to ensure the following:

#1 – Define the problem clearly: The collaborators must have a clear understanding of the issue and the dangers they present. The problem statement must be objective, without assigning blame to anyone, and the Why being asked must take them to the next level of the cause.

#2 – Make sure all the 5 Whys are answered with data, information, and document support: The answers to each Why must also be factual and supported by data. Every possible cause must be presented, allowing the team to examine each and pursue the most likely causes. Every incident may also have multiple causes. Therefore, having data that supports a theory will make it more meaningful.

#3 – Separate the causes from the symptoms: This is a quite common problem where often the symptoms may be confused with causes. Here, too, a data-backed analysis will help separate the two and pursue the investigation of only the cause.

Automating 5 Why RCA Workflows to Improve Safety Performance

In today’s globalized economy, where suppliers, production units, and customers are spread across different geographies, the collaboration between teams to perform 5 Why analysis can be a challenge.

When one of our clients identified a repeat machine breakdown in one of its units located away from the headquarters in North America, a 5 Why RCA team is drawn from members in the headquarters, the shop floor supervisor in the specific location, and the machinist had to collaborate to identify the root cause. The time difference between the two locations made it difficult to get all of them together at the same time. The manual approach to 5 Why became too evolved and causes and symptoms may get confused. As the process dragged on, arriving at a clear root cause and a solution became difficult. This was affecting the production and productivity of the machinist and the supervisor.

The automated solution from ComplianceQuest for 5 Why analysis accelerated the process, enabling the collaborators to work from their time zones and communicate from within the system. The data was accessible from other enterprise systems, such as ERP, which provided the needed insights. The process could also be shared with other experts internally and externally to get their input. The root cause was identified and necessary corrective action and preventive actions were taken to resolve the issue.

ComplianceQuest’s 5 Why RCA Solution to Improve Safety Performance

ComplianceQuest’s ‘5 Why Whiteboard’ feature helps improve safety performance by:

  • Facilitating global hybrid teams to 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 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 Process: 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

To know more, request a demo: https://www.compliancequest.com/lp/5-why-root-cause-analysis/