Whether it’s down to unforeseen circumstances, communication errors or mere accidents, mistakes are bound to occasionally happen in the workplace despite one’s best efforts to prevent them – systems can fail unexpectedly, technology can be unpredictable and even the best of employees can slip up sometimes. When such an event occurs, an employer must take steps to ensure that any negative impact on the company is mitigated and normal work procedures can continue with as little disruption as possible.

One way that employers can ensure the consequences of a workplace incident are contained is through pursuing corrective action – a method of addressing a workplace blunder or ‘non-conformity’ in a manner that eliminates the possibility of its recurrence. Corrective action seeks to rectify workplace actions, processes or behaviours when they produce errors or are lacking in their methodology. A common example used to understand corrective action is the idea of a potential workplace fire – with corrective action as a focus, the aim would not only be to put the fire out but to investigate why it occurred and solve the issue at the cause so it does not reoccur.

Examples of Corrective Action

Corrective action takes on different forms depending on the organisation, the specifics of an incident, and the industry it is being utilised in. The changes brought about by corrective action are most tangible when tied to quality assurance and control as this often results in changes that are either physical in nature or cause a noticeable shift in workplace processes.

Common examples of this include:

  • Equipment being updated or replaced
  • Security alarms being installed
  • Eliminating inefficiencies in business processes
  • Changes in the way data are processed or stored
  • Replacing and/or recalibrating tools and devices

When it comes to employee management, corrective action revolves around taking action to seek change within a single or group of employees if they have engaged in behaviour that risks harm to the organisation or fellow employees, goes against their contractual obligations or poses ethical concerns that must be addressed.

The specifics of performance-based corrective actions are very dependent on context but generally involve measures such as warnings, suspensions, training programs, coaching, informal or formal counselling and employee dismissal. For example, in the case of workplace discrimination or harassment, the offender may be required to undergo specific training in order to mitigate the risk of future instances, in which case they may be dismissed to eliminate the possibility of recurrence. 

How to build a corrective action plan

The aim of a corrective action plan is to address a workplace accident or incident by first establishing the ideal resolution to the event, and then outlining and following through on the steps required to achieve that outcome. In this manner, employers are able to take an issue impacting the business and understand on a step-by-step basis how it must be addressed to reach the most beneficial result for all parties involved and minimise any consequences.

Furthermore, the documentation of the plan is important as organisations have a system through which corrective action plans can be reflected and improved upon over time and ultimately increase efficiency and effectiveness whilst improving work processes and employee performance.

Whilst there is no one formula for creating a corrective action plan, ensuring the inclusion of certain key elements helps make sure that the actions taken accomplish their intended purpose.

The key elements include:

1. Defining the issue

Whilst it may seem obvious what the purpose of a particular corrective action plan is, taking the time to clearly identify and lay out what the exact problem is, how it has been impacting the company and what needs to be changed is vital. This way, it is easier to understand the need for the plan to exist and what issues will be addressed through its implementation. This is necessary in ensuring that everyone is on the same page and understands the parameters that you will be working within and not lose sight of the final goal.

By defining the exact issue the organisation is dealing with, finding potential solutions that leave all stakeholders satisfied becomes an easier hurdle to jump. It also helps to break down each step into individual actions, establish who will need to be involved in each aspect, adhere to the established timeline and foresee any constraints or limitations that must be navigated.

2. Identifying a root cause

The root cause of an issue is the heart of what the corrective action plan seeks to address – seeking to understand what occurred behind the scenes of an incident provides valuable information when attempting to put together an effective strategy to rectify or improve the situation. The purpose of root cause analysis is to ask questions that probe beyond what may seem like a surface-level issue to identify if there are any underlying problems that may result in a recurrence or fester into an even greater problem down the line.

A root cause analysis operates under the notion that all actions and systems are interrelated and that working backwards step by step will eventually lead you to the origins of a problem. Utilising this approach is great for ensuring you’re eliminating the cause of a problem, and not just treating a symptom that might arise again in another form.

3. Action items

Action items are a pivotal aspect of CAPs as they detail the exact steps the company has decided to take in order to correct the defined problem. They explain what actions will occur, who will be responsible for them, what resources will be utilised and any related costs that need to be addressed etc. Documenting the action items in this manner makes it far more convenient to track the progress of the plan, identify the need for any changes and foresee any potential issues that may cause complications. It also makes it convenient and more convenient to build a risk assessment matrix which is useful for guiding the plan towards decisions with the best risk-reward ratio.

4. Metrics for success

A corrective action plan must also detail what metrics will be utilised to judge how well the plan has been implemented and addressed the defined problem. Having metrics for satisfactory completion is necessary for the CAP to progress smoothly towards a final goal. It also makes it easier to reflect on the success of the plan and understand how similar goals can be tackled in the future by examining the successes and weaknesses of the implemented plan.

5. Reflection and reviews

After completing the corrective action plan, an evaluation of how well it served as a resolution to the issue is a must for the continued growth of the organisation’s corrective action processes. During this review, you may find there were areas of the plan that could have been adjusted to make the process faster, more convenient, cost-efficient or produce a better outcome.

At this stage, if there appears to be a significant benefit or opportunity that has been missed, the process can be restarted on a smaller scale. In other cases, these reflections may be utilised to help the company continue tweaking its corrective plans by adjusting the process and considerations made when developing them.

Utilising corrective action in the workplace allows employers to address issues in such a way that their potential to become a greater or repeated threat to the organization’s safety or quality is minimised.

The process of taking steps to address the root cause of a problem serves as a mechanism for organisations to continue improving their processes and mitigating threats over time. Implementing corrective action plans to accomplish this ultimately enables systemic issues to be addressed and improves the safety, reliability and productivity of the workplace.