Root Cause Analysis: Definition and Examples | SafetyCulture (2024)


RCAs aim to gauge the challenges an organization should address to streamline its processes and achieve its goals. Hence, identifying the root causes of a problem helps in developing more effective strategies to overcome it.

Conducting a root cause analysis and implementing apt solutions help employers to significantly or completely prevent the same or similar issues and incidents from recurring. In this way, employers will help reduce the risk of death and/or injury to workers, the community, or environmental damage. Further, organizations can also avoid unnecessary costs due to business interruption, increased regulation, audits, and emergency response to name a few.

It’s also worth noting that when employers value prevention more than merely treating surface-level symptoms, public trust can be earned. Having an incident-free record may be more likely to attract and retain high-performing employees, further promoting a culture of safety.


Tracing back to the broader field of Total Quality Management (TQM), root cause analysis is part of a more general problem-solving process, and essentially plays an integral role in continuous improvement efforts. This methodology was developed by manufacturers in the 1950s with the goal to better understand industrial events.

3 Basic Types of Root Causes

There are 3 basic types of root causes that can have a potential impact on a problem, such as:

  • Physical causes: May arise due to problems with any physical component of a system, such as hardware failure and equipment malfunction
  • Human causes: May occur due to human error, caused by lack of skills and knowledge to perform a task
  • Organizational causes: May happen when organizations use a system or process that is faulty or insufficient, in situations like giving incomplete instructions, making wrong decisions, and mishandling staff and property

RCA Categories

Root cause analysis is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. In fact, there are many various tools, processes, and techniques used in conducting it.

According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, most of the principles of RCA are classified into 5 major categories:

  • Safety-based RCA: This process is used to examine and identify the root causes of any failure of safety observance, accident analysis, or other issues related to occupational safety and health.
  • Production-based RCA: This is often conducted in the field of quality control for manufacturing to investigate the root causes of why certain defects are present either within the manufacturing process or end product.
  • Process-based RCA: Serving as a follow-on to production-based RCA, this approach has been expanded to include business processes.
  • Failure-based RCA: This is rooted in the concept of failure analysis, which is typically used in engineering and maintenance.
  • Systems-based RCA: Combining two or more methods of RCA, this approach also takes ideas from fields such as change management, risk management, and systems analysis.

The Root Cause Analysis Process in 5 Simple Steps

Root Cause Analysis: Definition and Examples | SafetyCulture (1)

Root Cause Analysis Process

As shown in the diagram above, the root cause analysis steps are:

  1. Realize the problem.
  2. Gather data.
  3. Determine possible causal factors.
  4. Identify the root cause.
  5. Recommend and implement solutions.

Going through each step in detail, here’s how you can perform root cause analysis.

Step 1: Realize the problem.

The first goal of RCA is to identify problems or defects, which is best done by simply asking: “What’s the problem?” By being able to define the problem, the symptoms, and the possible outcomes, you’ll be pointed to the right direction on how the analysis should go.

This step is also crucial in crafting a specific problem statement. Without it, it might be difficult to find and create the best recommendations and solutions. When writing a problem statement, make sure to keep these 3 things in mind:

  • how you would describe the problem;
  • what you see happening;
  • what the specific symptoms are.

Step 2: Gather data.

Retrieve all relevant and available data about the incident. Collect and investigate the documentation files, initial issues found, preliminary actions taken, personnel or teams involved, and other key information that you think would be beneficial to identify the root cause.

Step 3: Determine possible causal factors.

A causal factor, as defined by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, is a major unplanned contributor to a negative event or undesirable situation. If eliminated, causal factors would have either prevented the incident from happening or reduced its risks and frequency.

This is where the heart of your analysis enters the picture. Start this step by reconstructing a timeline of events in such a way that you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what led to the problem and other issues that coexist with the one you’re dealing with. This method is crucial for you to realize specific causal factors.

Step 4: Identify the root cause.

This is where you choose which of the root cause analysis tools you should use to discover the root causes of each causal factor you’ll encounter. Refer to the next section for the 5 best ways on how to do root cause analysis.

Step 5: Recommend and implement solutions.

Upon identifying the root cause, you can now recommend preventive measures to ensure that the problem won’t happen again. Further, develop a comprehensive timeline and plan on how you can implement the solution in such a way that all of the stakeholders involved are well-informed and trained toward proactive quality management.

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5 Best Ways on How to Do Root Cause Analysis (with Examples)

Ideally, a combination of various tools and techniques should be used to conduct root cause analysis in your organization. These tools are grouped under the following general categories:

  • Brainstorming
  • Checklists
  • Logic/Event Trees
  • Timelines
  • Sequence Diagrams
  • Causal Factor Determination

As you look for root cause analysis techniques and root cause analysis examples, start by exploring these most commonly used ones and see if these are appropriate for the situation you’re aiming to address.

The 5 Whys

This is considered the simplest approach to RCA. Basically, this method employs only one step, being repeated over and over again. All you need to do is start with a problem statement and then ask “Why?” 5 times, with each “Why?” leading you closer to the root cause.

What is an example of root cause analysis using The 5 Whys?

  • Problem statement: The electric water heater suddenly stopped working.
  • Why did it stop? It was found that the circuit breaker was tripped.
  • Why did the circuit breaker trip? The electric water heater was about to overheat.
  • Why was the electric water heater about to overheat? A buildup of sediment was found around the heating elements.
  • Why was the machine not checked and cleaned? There was a missed inspection and maintenance routine.
  • Why was there a missed routine check? The assigned team member wasn’t properly informed about the schedule.

Download a free 5 Whys template.


As one of the most in-depth root cause analysis methods, the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis or FMEA process uses hypothetical “What if?” questions to prompt an understanding of the problem at hand. This is best applied to establish cause-and-effect relationships that aim to describe why specific issues occur, including the one you’re dealing with.

Download a free FMEA template.


An acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, DMAIC is a data-driven strategy of an organization’s Six Sigma quality initiative that’s used in process improvement. It is composed of relatively straightforward steps, with each step aiming to ensure the best results possible. As a cyclical process, DMAIC includes the following steps:

  1. Define the project goals and customer deliverables
  2. Measure the process to assess current performance and quantify the problem
  3. Analyze and identify the root causes of defects
  4. Improve the process by eliminating and preventing defects
  5. Control future process performance to maintain improved strategies

Download a free DMAIC template.

8 Disciplines Problem Solving

Commonly known as 8D problem solving, this method is used in product and process improvement. Essential in implementing structural long-term solutions to prevent recurring problems, the 8D model is usually utilized by quality engineers and professionals involved in the automotive, healthcare, retail, finance, and manufacturing industries. Though this methodology originally has 8 stages or disciplines, it can be further refined by adding an additional step that is alloted for planning at the beginning. Hence, the 8D problem solving process looks like this:

  • D0: Plan
  • D1: Form a team
  • D2: Describe the problem
  • D3: Develop a containment plan
  • D4: Identify and confirm root causes and escape points
  • D5: Verify corrective actions and solutions before implementation
  • D6: Define and carry out corrective actions
  • D7: Map out preventive measures
  • D8: Recognize and congratulate the team

Download a free 8D report template or check out this collection of 8D report templates.

Change Analysis

This method is applicable to cases where significant changes took place in the performance of a system or a process. Its aim is to explore changes made in people, equipment, assets, and data, among others, that have relevant impact to the change in performance. Ultimately, this also helps in discovering strategies for risk identification and overall risk management.

As an example. you might find that this is the best root cause analysis option when you’re dealing with a large number of possible causes.

Root Cause Analysis Training for Your Teams

While various RCA tools can be used by one person, it’s great to encourage organizational collaboration and teamwork. You can do this by asking teams to work together to find the root causes of their problems. This is why conducting root cause analysis training is needed for your organization to promote safety culture and a high standard of quality across sites and departments.

With mobile tools like Training, you can create, test, and deploy mobile courses to guarantee that your teams are in the loop and comply with your standards in process improvement.

Have your training converted into a modern format built for mobile workers.

Improve Your RCA Process with SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor)

Root Cause Analysis: Definition and Examples | SafetyCulture (2024)


Root Cause Analysis: Definition and Examples | SafetyCulture? ›

The root cause analysis definition revolves around the process of identifying the source of a problem and looking for a solution in a way that the problem is treated at the root level. This way, organizations and professionals can look beyond the symptoms of the problem and work on where the real cause exists.

What is root cause analysis with example? ›

Root cause analysis (RCA) is the process of discovering the root causes of problems in order to identify appropriate solutions. RCA assumes that it is much more effective to systematically prevent and solve for underlying issues rather than just treating ad hoc symptoms and putting out fires.

What are the 5 steps of root cause analysis? ›

To go through the RCA process effectively, follow the five steps below:
  • Define the Problem. Analyze what you see happening and identify the precise symptoms to form a problem statement.
  • Gather Data. ...
  • Identify Causal Factors. ...
  • Determine the Root Cause(s) ...
  • Recommend and Implement Solutions.
Aug 12, 2022

What are the 5 Whys of RCA? ›

Five whys (5 whys) is a problem-solving method that explores the underlying cause-and-effect of particular problems. The primary goal is to determine the root cause of a defect or a problem by successively asking the question “Why?”.

What are the 6 categories of root cause analysis? ›

Root cause analysis can be performed in six steps - define the event, find causes, find the root cause, find solutions, take action, verify solution effectiveness.

What is a root cause analysis for dummies? ›

Root Cause Analysis is a useful process for understanding and solving a problem. Figure out what negative events are occurring. Then, look at the complex systems around those problems, and identify key points of failure. Finally, determine solutions to address those key points, or root causes.

How to do simple root cause analysis? ›

How to Perform a Root Cause Analysis in 5 Steps
  1. Define the Problem. Analyze what you see happening and identify the precise symptoms to form a problem statement.
  2. Gather Data. ...
  3. Identify Causal Factors. ...
  4. Determine the Root Cause(s) ...
  5. Recommend and Implement Solutions.
Aug 12, 2022

What are the 3 main objectives of root cause analysis? ›

You should perform a root cause analysis to determine what happened, why the issue happened, and what action to implement to reduce or eliminate it.

How do I write a RCA report? ›

Use the steps below to guide your team through the RCA process.
  1. Define the problem. You'll need a clearly defined problem to perform a root cause analysis. ...
  2. Collect your data. You'll now need to collect evidence to support that the problem exists. ...
  3. Identify possible root causes. ...
  4. Determine the root cause. ...
  5. Implement solutions.
Oct 12, 2022

What are the 4 P's root cause analysis? ›

» A good starting point for cause categories could be the '4 Ps' (policies, process, people and place). If these don't cover everything, don't worry; you can always add other cause types later. Alternatively, if a more relevant set of categories can be found, use them!

What are the 5 Whys technique? ›

The method is remarkably simple: when a problem occurs, you drill down to its root cause by asking "Why?" five times. Then, when a counter-measure becomes apparent, you follow it through to prevent the issue from recurring.

What are the 2 types of root cause findings? ›

Physical causes: May arise due to problems with any physical component of a system, such as hardware failure and equipment malfunction. Human causes: May occur due to human error, caused by lack of skills and knowledge to perform a task.

What are the 7 steps of root cause analysis? ›

Most experts agree to the following steps:
  • Define the Problem. It seems really simple, but defining the problem might not be as obvious as it looks. ...
  • Gather Data. ...
  • Find the Cause(s) ...
  • Find Solutions. ...
  • Develop Strategies to Correct/Prevent. ...
  • Report Out. ...
  • Monitor the Solutions and Close the Loop. ...
  • Revisit Over Time.
Dec 18, 2020

What is the best technique in root cause analysis? ›

The Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram IFD

The model introduced by Ishikawa (also known as the fishbone diagram) is considered one of the most robust methods for conducting root cause analysis.

What is the first step in root cause analysis? ›

The first step when performing root cause analysis is to analyze the existing situation. This is where the team identifies the factors that impact the problematic event. The outcome of this step is a statement that comprises the specific problem.

What is the difference between a trigger and a root cause? ›

There is a difference between a trigger and a cause. A trigger starts something that is primed to happen, while a cause is a reason for something to happen. A trigger is a small thing, and, in the case of migraine, ignores the things that are most important about why migraines happen.

What is the most basic approach to root cause analysis called? ›

One of the most popular methods used for root cause analysis is the 5 Whys. This approach defines the problem and then keeps asking "why" questions to each answer. The idea is to keep digging until you uncover reasons that explain the "why" of what happened.

Which is easiest tool for root cause analysis? ›

1. Pareto Charts. Pareto charts are the first root cause analysis tool to consider if you're looking for one that will show you what you need to know graphically.

What questions are asked in root cause analysis? ›

  • Was there an assessment done to identify what staff training was actually needed?
  • Was training provided prior to the start of the work process?
  • Were the results of training monitored over time?
  • Was the training adequate? ...
  • procedure omission, flawed training, and flawed rules/policy/procedure.

What should an RCA include? ›

What is Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a comprehensive term encompassing a collection of problem solving methods used to identify the real cause of a non-conformance or quality problem. Root Cause Analysis is the process of defining, understanding and solving a problem.

What is RCA template? ›

A root cause analysis template (also known as an RCA template) is used by cross-functional teams (CFTs) of subject matter experts to construct a good problem statement, collect relevant data, effectively identify the root cause, and implement lasting solutions.

Who should create RCA? ›

RCA is done by a team of people that are stakeholders to the incident or breakdown; those who have an understanding of the problem in which a solution is needed.

What are the 3 steps of an RCA? ›

Taking Action: Step 1 – identify actions implemented in similar past event(s). Step 2 – develop action plan. Step 3 – provide feedback to reporter. Step 4 – identify what was learned and who needs to know.

Who is responsible for RCA quality? ›

It is the responsibility of the entire team to sit and analyze the defects and contribute to the product and process improvement. In this tutorial, you have got a basic understanding of RCA, steps to be followed for doing an efficient RCA and different tools to be used such as Fishbone analysis and 5 Why Technique.

What is a fishbone root cause analysis? ›

A fishbone diagram is a visual way to look at cause and effect. It is a more structured approach than some other tools available for brainstorming causes of a problem (e.g., the Five Whys tool). The problem or effect is displayed at the head or mouth of the fish.

What are 5 Whys in Six Sigma? ›

Five Whys, sometimes written as "5 Whys," is a guided team exercise for identifying the root cause of a problem. Five Whys is used in the "analyze" phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) methodology.

What is a 3 legged 5 why? ›

When a 5 Whys investigation branches out into multiple paths, it's sometimes referred to as a three-legged 5 Whys. If a few paths present themselves during a 5 Whys investigation, it usually means there is ineffective detection control or a systemic issue.

What is the difference between 5 why and fishbone? ›

While Fishbone enables grouping them into different categories, 5 why helps to dig deeper into each root cause. The 5 Whys method is especially useful when there is no evident root cause, while Pareto helps to grade the known causes and prioritize the response to each.

What is a 5 Whys diagram? ›

The 5 Whys and fishbone diagrams can be used on their own or as a follow-up to techniques like the “last 10 patients” chart audit or fall-out analysis. The 5 Whys. The 5 Whys involves asking and answering the question "Why?" five times or as many times as it takes to get to the "root cause" or end of the causal chain.

What is the ask why 5 times template? ›

The 5 Whys template is a simple, yet powerful tool used for root cause analysis. Based on the technique developed by Sakichi Toyoda, it takes an iterative approach to problem solving. Starting with an initial problem statement, a question beginning with 'why' is asked 5 times in order to zero in on the root cause.

What is the common technique used during root cause analysis? ›

RCA helps to prevent recurrence, improve quality, and increase customer satisfaction. There are many tools and techniques for RCA, but some of the most common ones are the 5 Whys, the fishbone diagram, the Pareto chart, the scatter diagram, and the fault tree analysis.

What is the 5 Whys technique? ›

The method is remarkably simple: when a problem occurs, you drill down to its root cause by asking "Why?" five times. Then, when a counter-measure becomes apparent, you follow it through to prevent the issue from recurring.

What are the 4 steps in a root cause analysis? ›

Share this Article
  • Step 1: Identify Possible Causal Factors.
  • Step 2: Identify the Root Cause.
  • Step 3: Identify Communication Challenges.
  • Step 4: Prioritize Communication Challenges.

What should be included in an RCA? ›

RCA needs data points that potentially lead to the root cause. Putting events and data in chronological order helps to differentiate causal events from non-causal events. From the data collected, you can identify correlations between various events, their timing, and other data collected.

What are the three components of root cause analysis? ›

As shown in the diagram above, the root cause analysis steps are: Realize the problem. Gather data. Determine possible causal factors.

How do you run a 5 Whys session? ›

The 5 main steps to the the 5 Whys
  1. Step 1: Invite anyone affected by the issue. ...
  2. Step 2: Select a 5 Whys master for the meeting. ...
  3. Step 3: Ask “why” five times. ...
  4. Step 4: Assign responsibility for solutions. ...
  5. Step 5: Email the whole team the results.
Sep 9, 2018

What is the most important step in root cause analysis? ›

Best practice to an effective root cause analysis requires performing the following steps: definition of the problem, gathering data, identifying additional causes, identifying the root cause or causes, prioritizing the causes, and implementation of the solution.

What is a key to a successful RCA? ›

Make sure the RCA investigation team has access to the right people, data and locations. This will help them to collect data and verify both the actual events and the root causes behind them. Part of the setup and resourcing of an effective RCA investigation is the understanding that it is not a solo event.

What questions are asked in an RCA? ›

– “What do you think can be done differently?” – “What do we need to do to make this work?” – “How do you feel about that?” – “I understand there is a policy on pain assessment, is that correct?” – “If there is no further discussion, shall we move on?”

What is the tool for root cause analysis? ›

Pareto charts are the first root cause analysis tool to consider if you're looking for one that will show you what you need to know graphically. Pareto charts are bar graphs in most cases, and they show the ordered frequency of counts of data.

What does a good root cause look like? ›

A Good Root Cause Analysis Avoids Blame and Focuses on Prevention. By revealing multiple causes using this system approach, you are able to demonstrate that there is never one single cause to a problem—meaning, a problem isn't one person's fault either.

What are the two common tools used to perform root cause analysis? ›

Cause analysis tools are helpful tools for conducting a root cause analysis for a problem or situation. They include: Fishbone diagram: Identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem and sorts ideas into useful categories. Pareto chart: Shows on a bar graph which factors are more significant.


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