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Stephanie Ojeda


EHS Incident Management and Root Cause Analysis

Solve problems better, faster, and with greater confidence in your operations

Published: Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 11:02

Untitled Document

Workplace safety incidents are a key driver of risk in manufacturing organizations. There are the obvious risks to workers, whose ability to make a living directly depends on their employer’s approach to safety.

There are also huge risks to companies themselves, which face steep legal and compliance costs as a result of workplace injuries.

In fact, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducts thousands of unannounced inspections annually, while penalties continue to go up every year.

All of this points to a heightened need for proactive management of workplace environmental, health, and safety (EHS) incidents. In this article, we explore the essential tools in quality management systems (QMS) for managing EHS incidents from start to finish, including:
• EHS incident tracking and reporting software
• Root cause analysis tools such as 5 Whys, 8D, and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)
• Impact assessments for more effective risk management
• Corrective action tools and processes

EHS incident tracking and reporting software

It’s critical to be able to track and report on EHS incidents in your plant so you can capture data for more effective problem-solving and document your response for compliance records.

With an EHS incident reporting software, you can:
• Launch a corrective action as needed directly from within the system, allowing you to track its resolution from start to finish.
• Manage responsibilities, due dates, reviews, and approvals in one place.
• Add an impact assessment or launch root cause analysis processes (e.g., 8D or 5 Why) from the incident record.
• Streamline collaboration on incident management tasks and root cause analysis investigations.
• Export incident data to automatically populate the relevant OSHA 300 forms.

Root cause analysis tools

The next step after documenting the incident is to launch a root cause analysis. A robust QMS will include several tools for conducting your investigation, such as:
• 8D problem solving
• 5 Whys
• Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)

We’ll discuss each of these in more detail, including best practices on how and when to use the tools.

5 Whys

The 5 Whys is one of the most common tools used in root cause analysis. This technique starts by asking why a problem occurred, repeating the question in succession to uncover deeper potential root causes.

The 5 Whys is most commonly used for straightforward problems, compared with complex or repeat issues requiring in-depth investigation. It may also be used with other approaches, such as 8D problem solving.

From a QMS perspective, you should be able to launch a 5 Why directly from the incident record. This helps document your response to the incident for compliance, analysis, and collaboration.

8D problem solving

The 8D method is an in-depth, structured approach to problem solving often used for problems that:
• Have recurred despite previous attempts to solve them, which points to inadequate root cause analysis or ineffective corrective action
• Are high risk or otherwise complex
• Don’t have a documented root cause and corrective action

After you form a plan, 8D, or the Eight Disciplines, stands for the following eight steps:
• D1: Create the team
• D2: Define the problem
• D3: Contain the problem
• D4: Root cause analysis
• D5: Identify corrective actions
• D6: Implement corrective actions
• D7: Implement preventive actions
• D8: Recognize your team

One best practice is to add an effectiveness check six or eight months after the corrective action is complete. This helps you ensure that failures aren’t ongoing, and that you identified the correct root cause.

Built-in 8D tools in the QMS can help streamline the process for manufacturers that frequently use this type of problem solving. As a preconfigured process, it allows you to initiate an 8D from the incident record and automatically route it from one step to the next. The QMS also makes it simple to add periodic effectiveness checks, so you know you identified the right root cause and corrective action.

Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)

An FMEA is used to document potential failure points in a product or process. An FMEA allows you to score each failure point by severity, occurrence (i.e., likelihood), and detection to measure overall risk.

While many people typically think of FMEA in the context of product development, it’s also useful for root cause analysis. That’s because an FMEA can:
• Give you a list of potential failure points to start from in your investigation
• Help with brainstorming for 8D or 5 Whys investigations
• Assist with evaluating the effectiveness of controls and whether they could be contributing to the issue

Within the QMS, you should be able to pull up any relevant FMEAs and link them to the incident record. With some simple configurations, the incident record itself should also allow you to drop in an FMEA to use in documenting your investigation.

Impact assessment

Once you have determined an incident’s root cause, knowing how it might affect your business or process can help you prioritize your actions. QMS risk management tools make this possible by allowing you to drop an impact assessment into the incident record as part of your documentation.

The risk assessment should generate a risk score based on the three dimensions of risk: detection, likelihood (or occurrence), and severity.

In other words, what’s the probability of catching the incident before it affects the customer? Is this incident likely to happen again? If so, what would be the potential outcome? By answering these questions to create a risk score, teams can make data-driven decisions about where to best prioritize their resources.

Corrective action

After you’ve completed the investigation and impact assessment, the final step is to identify, implement, and verify corrective actions. A QMS corrective action solution offers several advantages here, including the ability to:
• Track all corrective actions in one place to make sure problems aren’t overlooked
• Use queries to identify similar issues with solutions that worked previously (or instances where past corrective actions weren’t sufficient)
• Link EHS incidents to audit questions to verify issue containment and corrective action effectiveness
• Add charts and KPIs to your QMS dashboard to increase visibility of issues
• Generate complete records of the corrective action process, including who was involved, steps taken, and post-incident monitoring


Safety has a far-reaching influence in manufacturing organizations today, affecting team morale, productivity, compliance status, and even brand value.

A standardized, streamlined approach to EHS incident management is essential for protecting workers and avoiding compliance violations. QMS incident management and root cause analysis tools provide built-in structure and best practices so you can solve problems better, faster, and with greater confidence in your operations.

Download a free case study to learn how one leading manufacturer created a customized process for root cause analysis and corrective action.

Published Aug. 8, 2023, on the AssurX blog.


About The Author

Stephanie Ojeda’s picture

Stephanie Ojeda

Stephanie Ojeda is the director of product management for the life sciences industry at AssurX.


This is a very important subject

I shared a link to this article at LinkedIn. Every safety incident and near-miss requires corrective and preventive action to remove the root cause.