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9 Effective Root Cause Analysis Techniques For Your Business

Have you ever wondered why things keep going wrong in your business, despite your best efforts? 

It could be because you're not getting to the root of the problem. 

Just like a tree can't grow well if its roots are damaged, a business can't thrive if its underlying issues aren't fixed.

In this article, we will cover 9 specific root cause analysis techniques tailored for safety managers seeking to improve workplace safety

For each technique, the guide explains what it is, steps for how to implement it, and an example scenario related to safety. 

The techniques this article covers include:

  1. The 5 Whys
  2. Fishbone Root Cause Analysis
  3. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
  4. Fault Tree Analysis
  5. Pareto Analysis
  6. Bowtie Analysis
  7. 8D Problem Solving
  8. Root Cause Mapping
  9. Change Analysis

But, let’s first understand in your workplace management and safety procedures, what is the importance of root cause analysis!

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a process used to find the underlying causes of an incident, error, or problem. 

It helps you get to the core of a problem. Instead of just addressing the obvious symptoms, you keep asking "Why?" to identify the root cause. 

This allows you to implement solutions that target the source of the problem, not just the surface issues.

Some examples of when to perform a reactive root cause analysis:

  • After a workplace injury or illness
  • After a safety-related equipment failure
  • After a chemical spill or release
  • After a vehicle or driving-related incident
  • After a safety violation or rule-breaking
  • After a near miss that could have caused harm

Conducting a root cause analysis soon after an incident provides the most accurate information before details are forgotten.

Also, Check Out the OSHA Injury Report Flowchart & How To Make It For Workspace Safety

9 Effective Root Cause Analysis Techniques 

Technique 1: The 5 Whys Technique

The 5 Whys technique involves repeatedly asking "Why?" to drill down to the root cause of an issue. 

By asking "WHY?" [five times], you can peel back the layers of symptoms to get to the source of the problem. It's an easy and effective form of root cause analysis methods.

the 5 whys technique for root cause analysis

Example Scenario of workplace and implementing 5 WHY technique:

An employee was injured when a heavy box fell on them while unloading inventory.

Q1 - Why was the employee injured? Because a heavy box fell on them.

Q2 - Why did the box fall? Because it was unstable on the shelf.

Q3 - Why was the box unstable? Because it was stacked incorrectly.

Q4 - Why was it stacked incorrectly? Because the employee did not follow proper stacking procedures.

Q5 - Why didn't the employee follow procedures? Because they had not been properly trained in safe stacking methods.

By using the 5 Whys, you identified lack of training as the root cause of the injury. 

The solution would be to provide proper training on safe stacking procedures.

Technique 2: Fishbone Diagram Root Cause Analysis (Ishikawa)

If you want to find possible reasons for a problem or issue, you can use a Fishbone Diagram, which is also called an Ishikawa Diagram. There is a horizontal "spine" that leads to diagonal "bones" that branch off and represent different types of reasons. This is how the diagram got its name.

For more clarity on all possible root causes, see Fishbone Diagrams.

The Fishbone diagram for root cause analysis techniques

Steps to Create:

  1. Identify the defect and place it at the top of the fishbone as the "effect."
  2. Draw a horizontal arrow to the right for the main section of the fishbone.
  3. Group major causes into categories like Personnel, Technology, Processes, etc.
  4. List factors for each category using "why does this occur" to explore root causes.
  5. Repeat the "why" question for each cause to uncover deeper factors.
  6. Analyze the diagram for patterns and areas needing improvement.

After completing the diagram, identify patterns in the information and determine which parts need improvement.

Technique 3: Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a systematic technique for identifying potential failures in designs, processes, and services before they reach the customer. 

It aims to prevent failures by examining how failures could occur and what effects they would have.

Steps to Implement FMEA

  1. Assemble a cross-functional team familiar with the process.
  2. Create a process map showing all steps in detail.
  3. For each step, brainstorm potential failure modes and their effects. Consider:
    1. How could the process step fail?
    2. What would the effects be if it did fail?
  4. Rank the severity of the effects of each failure mode (e.g. 1-10).
  5. Determine causes and frequency of occurrence for each failure mode.
  6. Calculate the risk priority number (RPN) by multiplying severity, occurrence, and detection ratings.
  7. Prioritize high RPN failure modes for corrective action.
  8. Implement and validate corrective actions.
  9. Continue to monitor RPNs and new failure modes in future FMEAs.

Here’s an example template of FEMA

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Technique 4: Fault Tree Analysis

Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) is a type of logical failure analysis that tries to figure out why something bad happened, which is called the "top event." 

It gives you an organized and visual way to look at the ways that a system can lead to this top event.

For example, the fault tree shows the possible paths in a system that can lead to a bad result. This lets safety team figure out where stronger barriers or controls for prevention might be needed.

Fault Tree Analysis technique for root cause analysis

Steps to Create

To conduct a Fault Tree Analysis:

  1. Define the specific undesired top event for analysis.
  2. Identify immediate causes as primary nodes on the fault tree diagram.
  3. Determine secondary causes for each primary cause.
  4. Add layers of causes, connecting them with logic gates (AND, OR, etc.).
  5. Analyze the fault tree for common causes and areas for improvement.
  6. Optionally quantify the fault tree by calculating the probability of the top event based on component failure rates.

Example Scenario of Fault Tree Analysis in a Workplace

A fault tree could examine a top event such as “Worker injury from a robotic arm on the assembly line.” Possible primary causes may be “Robotic arm hits worker” and “Worker within range of the arm.”

Another secondary cause for “Worker within range of arm” could be “Worker enters area without authorization”. The fault tree would continue from there, tracing back all the possible causes that may result in the worker getting injured by the robotic arm.

This mapping can show weaknesses in safety barriers, training, equipment maintenance, alarms, and other key areas. 

The idea is to reduce the probability that the undesired top event will occur by reducing the probability of those faults further down the tree.

Technique 5: Pareto Analysis

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is the observation that 80% of outcomes are the result of 20% of causes. 

When applied to workplace safety root cause analysis, Pareto Analysis helps identify the most significant contributing factors to safety incidents.

This Analysis involves categorizing the various causes of safety incidents and determining the frequency of occurrence. This makes it easy to visualize the significant contributors.

Steps to Implement

Follow these steps to conduct Pareto Analysis for workplace safety:

  1. Gather data on safety incidents, including causes and frequency.
  2. Rank incident causes from most to least frequent.
  3. Calculate cumulative frequencies and percentages for each cause.
  4. Create a Pareto chart with causes on the x-axis and frequency/percentage on the y-axis.
  5. Identify the 'vital few' causes from the taller bars on the left side of the chart.
  6. Focus on addressing these key causes to reduce incidents.
Pareto chart - types of errors discovered during surgical set-up

Example Scenario

A Construction site reviewed its safety incident data and created a Pareto chart. They found that slips, trips, and falls accounted for 70% of all incidents. Electrical hazards and struck-by incidents accounted for 20%. The remaining 10% were other minor incident types.

By focusing their safety resources on reducing slips, trips and falls - the vital few causes - the Construction site could make the biggest impact in improving workplace safety. 

Electrical and struck-by hazards were still addressed but to a lesser degree.

Technique 6: Bowtie Analysis

Bowtie Analysis is a risk management technique that visually maps the processes leading up to a risk occurrence (the “knot”) and its consequences. When causes and effects are placed on either side of the core risk event, the diagram forms a bowtie.

Bowtie Analysis shows all risk variables. This identifies crucial control points to prevent and mitigate incidents. 

Bowtie Analysis helps safety teams identify causes and create worst-case scenarios for workplace events.

Steps to Create

To create a Bowtie Diagram for analyzing risk:

  1. Identify the critical risk event or hazard (the knot).
  2. Map out potential threats and causes leading to the risk event (left side).
  3. Identify potential consequences and outcomes after the risk event (right side).
  4. Drill down to specific failure modes on both sides.
  5. Add existing or proposed controls and recovery measures.
Bowtie Diagram for root cause analysis

Example Scenario

A manufacturing facility wants to analyze the potential risk event of a hazardous chemical spill. They create a Bowtie Diagram with "chemical spill" as the knot.

On the left side, they identify causes such as corrosion of chemical storage tanks, employee errors in handling, and equipment failures. On the right side, they map out consequences like toxic fumes, contamination of surrounding areas, injuries to workers, and environmental damage.

Existing controls like protective equipment and spill response protocols are added. The analysis highlights the need for additional inspection and monitoring of chemical tanks as a critical control point. 

This Bowtie Analysis provides a detailed risk management plan.

Technique 7: 8D Problem Solving

The 8D Problem Solving technique is a structured team-based approach for identifying, correcting, and eliminating recurring problems. 

The "8D" refers to the eight disciplines or methodical steps required to address problems in a systematic way.

8D focuses on preventing problems from reoccurring rather than just implementing a quick fix. It brings together team members from different departments and functions to provide diverse insights into finding the root cause.

Example Scenario & Implementation of 8D Problem Solving

An employee was injured when a heavy load fell on them from unsafe storage on a high shelf. 

An 8D team could be formed to analyze this incident.

  • D1: Safety manager, warehouse manager, maintenance lead, and affected employee assemble the team.
  • D2: The team develops a detailed problem statement documenting the exact incident.
  • D3: As an interim containment, heavy loads are barred from being stored on high shelves.
  • D4: By interviewing staff and inspecting the storage area, improper load securing is identified as the root cause.
  • D5: A new load securing procedure is developed and tested.
  • D6: All staff are trained on proper load securing and storage procedures.
  • D7: Shelves are redesigned to prevent overloading.
  • D8: The team is recognized for improving warehouse safety.

Technique 8: Root Cause Mapping

Root cause mapping is a visual diagram that depicts the relationship between a problem or defect and its underlying causal factors. 

It provides a clear picture of how various elements link together to produce the undesirable effect.

Steps to Create to create a root cause map:

  1. Clearly state the problem at the top or left side of the map.
  2. List all potential contributing factors as branches from the problem.
  3. For each branch, ask "Why does this happen?" to identify sub-factors.
  4. Use lines and arrows to show relationships and direction of influence.
  5. Look for patterns; root causes are often the lowest-level factors.
  6. Propose solutions to address the true root causes.

Example Scenario

A worker slips and falls on a wet floor near the building entrance. To analyze the incident, a root cause map is created. 

The fall is listed as the problem. 

Contributing factors such as weather, floor condition, footwear, distraction, and lighting are explored through sub-branches. 

This reveals root issues like inadequate mats, poor drainage, lack of safety rules, etc. Solutions can then target those specifics.

Technique 9: Change Analysis

Change Analysis is a root cause analysis technique that involves comparing a situation before and after a change occurs. The goal is to identify the root causes of the change in results or outcomes.

Steps to Conduct Change Analysis for Root Cause Identification:

  1. Identify the change leading to the undesirable outcome (process, equipment, staffing, etc.).
  2. Gather data before and after the change, considering all available metrics.
  3. Compare before and after data to identify differences.
  4. Analyze differences to pinpoint potential root causes.
  5. Brainstorm potential causes by questioning what changed and what was different.
  6. Determine likely root causes based on evidence and data.

Example Scenario

A manufacturing facility recently upgraded a piece of equipment from a manual to automated model. Since the change, there has been an increase in product defects.

To find the root cause, Change Analysis is used to compare metrics before and after the equipment upgrade:

  • Operator hours: Decreased from 60 hrs/week to 40 hrs/week
  • Production volume: Increased from 1,000 units/day to 1,500 units/day
  • Defect rate: Increased from 2% to 5%

By analyzing the data changes, two potential root causes are identified:

  • Lack of operator training on the new automated equipment
  • Faster production speed leads to uncaught defects

Additional investigation would determine which is the primary root cause to address.

How SafetyIQ Enhances Root Cause Analysis – (Software Assistance in RCA)

SafetyIQ works as a root cause analysis software that gathers all the important details about workplace incidents in one place, making it easy to see patterns and find the root causes of problems. 

For example, if there are a lot of slips and falls in a certain area, SafetyIQ can help managers to identify hazards (what’s causing them) - maybe the floor is too slippery or there’s not enough lighting. 

Once the cause is found, businesses can take action to fix it and prevent it from happening again.

A real-life example of how SafetyIQ works is with a company called PALFINGER. They used SafetyIQ and managed to save almost a million dollars in worker compensation costs over two years. This happened because they could find and fix the problems that were causing injuries at work​

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CHECK OUT OUR RESOURCES!

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