Category: Root Causes

You are just one Causal Factor from your next major Incident. Can you prevent it?

July 5th, 2016 by


Words that I hate to hear when asked to help with an investigation: “I am surprised this incident did not happen earlier!” Rarely have I seen an incident where there is not a history of the same problems occurring.  Think of it like a math equation:

X + Y (A) = The Incident

A company’s issues are just waiting for the right math equation to occur at the right time. What are some of the common factors that populate the equation above?

  • Audit Findings (risk or compliance)
  • Near Misses (or some cases, Near Hits)
  • OSHA Non-Recordable(s)
  • Defects (caught before the defect reached the customer)
  • Project Delays
  • Procurement Issues
  • Behavior Based Safety Entries

This list of variables is infinite and dependent on the industry and service or product that your company provides. Should you be required to perform a full root cause analysis on each and every write-up or issue listed above to prevent an Incident? Not, necessarily.

Instead, I recommend that you start looking at what would be a risk to employees, customers, environment, product/service or future company success if you combined any of your issues in the same timeline or process of transactions (in TapRooT® our timeline is called a SnapCharT®). For example, take the 3 issues listed below that have a higher potential of incident occurrence when combined in the right equation.

Issue 1: Audit finding for outdated procedures found in a laboratory for testing blood samples.

Issue 2: Behavior Based Safety Write-up entered for cracked and faded face shields

Issue 3: Older Blood Analyzer has open equipment work orders for service issues.

Combining the 3 items above could cause a contaminated blood sample, exposure of contaminated blood to the lab worker or a failed test sample to the patient.

If the cautions about your future combination of known issues are not heeded then please do not acted surprised after the future Incident occurs.

Want to learn about causal factors? It’s not too late to sign up for our Advanced Causal Factor Development Course, August 1-2, 2016, San Antonio, Texas.

Need to Learn Root Cause Essentials Before the Global Summit? Here is the Solution!

June 3rd, 2016 by

We’re offering our 2-day course right before the Global TapRooT® Summit!  Take the course and then stay for the 3-day Summit.  LEARN MORE!


Root Cause Analysis on Trends

June 2nd, 2016 by

Welcome to this week’s root cause analysis tips. This week I would like to talk about root cause analysis on trends.

One of the most common discussions I have with people involves what to do with the things you do not have time to investigate. Many companies use some sort of ranking or risk matrix to determine at what point something is important enough to warrant an investigation. I have some thoughts on this…


Sometimes people try to investigate everything and end up doing poor investigations.

First of all, sometimes people try to investigate everything and end up doing poor investigations on everything; that does not help anybody. One consideration on where to draw the line is related to your current numbers. For example, if you work in a plant that has a few incidents per year, if you have the resources to investigate, I say do it. But if you are looking at large numbers at a corporate level, you may not have the resources – and you have to decide where to draw the line.

So what about the minor incidents you have that don’t get investigated – what to do with them? Well, it goes beyond minor incidents, you have other things that can be trended, rootcaused (is that a word?), and corrected. It is actually quite easy to investigate a trend, the hard part is actually collecting the data. I call this getting things in the “right bucket.” Here are some examples of information you might collect (or should):

• Minor incidents
• Near Misses
• Audit Findings
• BBS Observations

If you do a good job of collecting data, you can then trend the information. Your trends should reveal what processes are causing you pain. You then investigate the PROCESS, rather than an incident. For example, let’s say you had some near misses, some audit findings, and some BBS observations related to your lockout/tagout process that revealed issues. You may have not had a major incident yet, but you have warning signs. You can’t (or don’t have time to) go back and do full blown investigations on each data point, so you map out the process with a SnapCharT®, adding everything you know about the process as conditions, and based on that information, you identify your known failures and potential failures as Significant Issues (the equivalent to Causal Factors) in TapRooT®. Then off to the Root Cause Tree® and corrective actions. You’ve done ONE investigation on potentially dozens (or hundreds) of issues. This is more effective and much easier than doing multiple bad investigations.

Investigation of trends is a very important consideration in Audit Programs. Again, do you have time to investigate every finding? Maybe not. Here is an example:

A corporate auditor for a big box store has 100 compliance questions on a checklist and 100 locations that were audited using this checklist in the past year. That is a fair amount of data. The auditor can use this data to develop a list of top findings and then analyze the biggest issues.

The data for the yearly compliance is presented on a Pareto Chart below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 4.02.03 PM

The top two categories are related to a similar topic: required signage. The audits have revealed both missing signs and outdated signs. Let’s look at these issues together on a SnapCharT®. Significant Issues are marked with a triangle:

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 4.02.24 PM

Next, you take the Significant Issues through the Root Cause Tree®, and apply corrective actions. One investigation on dozens of findings.

I hate to use clichés, but WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER!

Want to learn more? I have a couple of opportunities that might interest you:

If you already collect good information and have good trending in place, consider attending the new TapRooT® for Audits Course on August 1-2.

If you are not there yet and want to learn how to collect data and trend, consider the Advanced Trending Techniques Course, also on August 1-2.

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog, and happy investigating/auditing.

Root Cause Analysis Tip: Use the Dictionary!

May 19th, 2016 by

TapRooT® Users have more than a root cause analysis tool. They have an investigation and root cause analysis system.

The TapRooT® System does more than root cause analysis. It helps you investigate the problem, collect and organize the information about what happened. Identify all the Causal Factors and then find their root causes. Finally, it helps you develop effective fixes.

But even that isn’t all that the TapRooT® System does. It helps companies TREND their problem data to spot areas needing improvement and measure performance.

One key to all this “functionality” is the systematic processes built into the TapRooT® System. One of those systematic processes is the Root Cause Tree® and Dictionary.


The Root Cause Tree® Dictionary is a detailed set of questions that helps you consistently identify root causes using the evidence you collected and organized on your SnapCharT®.

For each node on the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® Diagram, there is a set of questions that define that node. If you get a yes for any of those questions, it indicates that you should continue down that path to see if there is an applicable root cause. Atr the root cause level, you answer the questions to see if you have the evidence you need to identify a problem that needs fixing (needs improvement).


For example, to determine if the root cause “hot/cold” under the Work Environment Near Root Cause under the Human Engineering Basic Cause Category is a root cause, you would answer the questions (shown in the Dictionary above):

  1. Was an issue cause by excessive exposure of personnel to hot or cold environments (for example, heat exhaustion or numbness from the cold)?
  2. Did hurrying to get out of an excessively hot or cold environment contribute to the issue?
  3. Did workers have trouble feeling items because gloves were worn to protect them from cold or hot temperatures?

If you get a “Yes” then you have a problem to solve.

How do you solve it? You use Safeguards Analysis and the Corrective Action Helper® Guide. Attend one of our TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Courses to learn all the secrets of the advanced TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System.

The TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® Dictionary provides a common root cause analysis language for your investigators. The Dictionary helps the investigators consistently find root causes using their investigation evidence, This makes for consistent root cause analysis identification and the ability to trend the results.

The expert systems built into the Root Cause Tree® Diagram and Dictionary expand the number of root causes that investigators look for and helps investigators identify root causes that they previously would have overlooked. This helps companies more quickly improve performance by solving human performance issues that previously would NOT have been identified and, therefore, would not have been fixed.

Are you using a tool or a system?

If you need the most advanced root cause analysis system, attend one of our public TapRooT® Courses. Here are a few that are coming up in the next six months:

2-Day TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Training

 Dublin, Ireland      June 8-9, 2016

Pittsburgh, PA   June 20-21, 2016

Hartford, CT       July 13-14, 2016

San Antonio, TX   August, 1-2, 2016

Copenhagen, Denmark September 22-23, 2016


2-Day TapRooT®/Equifactor® Equipment Troubleshooting & Root Cause Analysis Training

San Antonio, TX   August 1-2, 2016


5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Training

Houston, TX           June 13-17, 2016

Gatlinburg, TN          June 20-24, 2016

Niagara Falls, Canada July 11-15, 2016

Monterrey, Mexico   August 22-26, 2016

Mumbai, India   August 29 – September 2, 2016

Aberdeen, Scotland  September 19-23, 2016

For the complete list of current courses held around the world, see:

To hold a course at your site, contact us by CLICKING HERE.

(Note: Copyrighted material shown above is used by permission of System Improvements.)

When the Message does not Communicate the Message in Healthcare

May 16th, 2016 by

This week’s article is not so much based on RCA principles but on the decisions that senior leaders make and the consequences of those actions. I always highlight from an RCA perspective the impact of the messages and communications from senior leadership down through the organization and the possible negative consequences. But this takes the cake… or the donut, if you will.

Saw an article today about the University of North Carolina’s decision to remove the name of their newest (7-month-old) corporate sponsor off of their UNC Children’s Clinic. That corporate sponsor… wait for it…

“Krispy Kreme”

Now, I am surely no marketing genius (my strengths are more in the training and RCA world) but could anyone associated with the organization see past the $$$$ to know that this was not a good idea? In today’s money driven society there are reasons that sponsors are invited, and in most cases these are due to a lack of funding and a desire to continue doing good deeds and good work. But sometimes the word “NO” is very much underutilized.

What message was sent to all those Doctors and Nurses? To all the parents bringing their children for care to the clinic? Is it the health, care and safety of their young loved ones? Or is it something else? I certainly don’t want to be treated for a clogged artery in the “Beef it’s What’s For Dinner Cath lab”, or be treated for a peanut allergy in the “Peanut M & M’s Allergy Center.”

Now if you read the full article the name was tied to a fund-raising race and the Clinic and UNC’s dedication to it. But always remember that what you perceive the message to be may not be what is received. I have worked with investigations where too many times the Administration says one thing and a totally different message is received. From an RCA perspective in the diagram below you will see that the Administration/Management interview circle is dotted… in TapRooT® circles that means an assumption or unknown.  


From a data gathering perspective, this means that I need to compare what Administration/Management believes/says/communicates is what is understood by the masses. To understand if the true message has reached those who need it. And in the case of this article I believe that they totally missed the mark with all the right intentions. Let me know what you believe in the comments below.

If you would like to know more about TapRooT® or if you have any questions you can contact me at or you can find out about our public course offerings at:


AFL-CIO releases “Death on the Job” Report

April 28th, 2016 by


For the 25th year, the AFL-CIO has produced a report about the the state of safety and health for American workers. The report states that in 2014, 4,821 workers were killed on the job in the U.S., and approximately 50,000 died from occupational diseases. This indicates a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous conditions.

READ the full report.

The EPA’s Revision to the Risk Management Plan Regulation is Open for Comments

March 30th, 2016 by

The modifications have been published in the Federal Register. See:

To see the previous article about the modifications and their impact on root cause analysis, see:

Hurry if you want to submit comments. The register says:

“Comments: Comments and additional material must be received on or before May 13, 2016. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), comments on the information collection provisions are best assured of consideration if the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) receives a copy of your comments on or before April 13, 2016.Public Hearing. The EPA will hold a public hearing on this proposed rule on March 29, 2016 in Washington, DC.”

April 13, 2016, isn’t far away!

For comment information, see:!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0001

To add your comment, see:!submitComment;D=EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0001

Protection Through Prevention – A Study in Root Cause Analysis of Patient Safety Events

March 24th, 2016 by

As we on focus patient safety during this week, I thought it prudent to examine one of the more important aspects of providing a safe environment of care for our patients, the use of Root Cause Analysis (RCA) to prevent future events.  If we perform very thorough objective analysis, we can build corrective and preventative measures that will improve our systems and reduce or remove the chances for future similar events.

In the case study below, we’ll examine a medication error that affected one patient, could have affected two patients (due to swapped medications) but did not due to the quick response by the treatment team.  Learn to better analyze and create a safer environment for our patients, staff, and community.

DOWNLOAD this white paper.


Does A Good Quality Management System equate to Compliance?

March 8th, 2016 by


If it is written down, it must be followed. This means it must be correct… right?

Lack of compliance discussion triggers that I see often are:

  • Defective products or services
  • Audit findings
  • Rework and scrap

So the next questions that I often ask when compliance is “apparent” are:

  • Do these defects happen when standard, policies and administrative controls are in place and followed?
  • What were the root causes for the audit findings?
  • What were the root causes for the rework and scrap?

In a purely compliance driven company, I often here these answers:

  • It was a complacency issue
  • The employees were transferred…. Sometimes right out the door
  • Employee was retrained and the other employees were reminded on why it is important to do the job as required.

So is compliance in itself a bad thing? No, but compliance to poor processes just means poor output always.

Should employees be able to question current standards, policies and administrative controls? Yes, at the proper time and in the right manner. Please note that in cases of emergencies and process work stop requests, that the time is mostly likely now.

What are some options to removing the blinders of pure compliance?

GOAL (Go Out And Look)

  • Evaluate your training and make sure it matches the workers’ and the task’s needs at hand. Many compliance issues start with forcing policies downward with out GOAL from the bottom up.
  • Don’t just check off the audit checklist fro compliance’s sake, GOAL
  • Immerse yourself with people that share your belief to Do the Right thing, not just the written thing.
  • Learn how to evaluate your own process without the pure Compliance Glasses on.

If you see yourself acting on the suggestions above, this would be a perfect Compliance Awareness Trigger to join us out our 2016 TapRooT® Summit week August 1-5 in San Antonio, Texas.

Go here to see the tracks and pre-summit sessions that combat the Compliance Barriers.

Monday Accident & Lessons Learned: Button Pushed “Accidentally” Shuts Down Refinery

March 7th, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2016 02 29 at 11 29 09 AM

Here’s the press report about an incident at a west coast refinery …

They think that someone working in the area accidentally hit a button that shut down fuel to a boiler. That caused a major portion of the refinery to shut down.

 At least one Causal Factor for this incident would be “Worker accidentally hits button with elbow.”

If you were analyzing this Causal Factor using the Root Cause Tree®, where would you go?

Of course, it would be a Human Performance Difficulty.

When you reviewed The Human Performance Troubleshooting Guide, you would answer “Yes” to question 5:

“Were displays, alarms, controls, tools, or equipment identified or operated improperly?”

 That would lead you do evaluating the equipment’s Human Engineering.

Under the Human-Nachine Interface Basic Cause Category, you would identify the “controls need improvement” root cause because you would answer “Yes” to the Root Cause Tree® Dictionary question:

“Did controls need mistake-proofing to prevent unintentional or incorrect actuation?”

That’s just one root cause for one Causal Factor. How many other Causal Factors were there? It’s hard to tell with the level of detail provided by the article. I would guess there was at least one more, and maybe several (there usually should be for an incident of this magnitude). 

At least one of the corrective actions by the refinery management was to initially put a guard on the button. Later, the button was removed to eliminate the chance for human error. 

Are there more human-machine interface problems at this refinery? Are they checking for them to look for Generic Causes? You can’t tell from the article.

Would you like to learn more about understanding human errors and advanced root cause analysis? Then you should attend the 5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training. See public course dates at:

And click on the link for the continent where you would like to attend the training.

Revisions to the EPA’s Risk Management Plan Involve Accident Investigation & Root Cause Analysis

March 3rd, 2016 by

President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 that directed agencies to improve chemical safety performance.  In response, the EPA is proposing changes to the RMP (Risk Management Plan) regulation. A preliminary copy of the changes have been published HERE (they have not yet been published in the Federal Register).

For readers interested in root cause analysis, the main changes start on page 28 in the Incident Investigation and Accident History Requirements section.

The revision to the regulation actually mentions “causal factors” and “root causes” that were not mentioned in the previous regulation. On page 33 the revision states:

Thus EPA is proposing to require a root cause analysis to ensure that facilities determine
the underlying causes of an incident to reduce or eliminate the potential for additional accidents
resulting from deficiencies of the same process safety management system.

The EPA document uses the following definition of a root cause:

Root cause means a fundamental, underlying, system-related reason
why an incident occurred that identifies a correctable failure(s) in management systems.

The revision document gives examples of poor investigations of near-miss accidents that did not get to root causes so that a future accident that included a fatality or severe injuries occurred. These examples include and explosion and fire at a Tosco refinery, an explosion at a Georgia-Pacific Resins facility, an explosion an fire at a Shell olefins plant, and a runaway reaction at a Morton International chemical plant. In each case, root causes of issues were not identified and fixed and this allowed a more serious accident to eventually occur.

Of course, I have said many times that I’ve never seen a major accident that didn’t have precursor incidents (call them near-misses if you must). Performing adequate root cause analysis of smaller incidents has always been one of the goals that we have suggested to TapRooT® Users and now even more fully support with the new Using the Essential TapRooT® Techniques to Investigate Low-to-Medium Risk Incidents book.

The document asks for comments on the proposed revision to the regulation (page 41):

  • EPA seeks comment on whether a root cause analysis is appropriate for every RMP reportable accident and near miss. 
  • Should EPA eliminate the root cause analysis, or revise to limit or increase the scope or applicability of the root cause analysis requirement? 
  • If so, how should EPA revise the scope or applicability of this proposed requirement? 
  • EPA also seeks comment on proposed amendments to require consideration of incident investigation findings, in the hazard review (§ 68.50) and PHA (§ 68.67) requirements. 
  • Finally, EPA seeks comment on the proposed additional requirement in § 68.60 to require personnel with appropriate knowledge of the facility process and knowledge and experience in incident investigation techniques to participate on an incident investigation team.

In the document, there is extensive discussion about defining and investigating near-misses. The section ends with …

  • EPA seeks comment on the guidance and examples provided of a near miss. 
  • Is further clarification needed in this instance? 
  • Should EPA consider limiting root cause analyses only for incidents that resulted in a catastrophic release?

The document also discusses time frames for completing investigations. Should it be 30 days, 60 days, six months? It’s interesting to note that many investigations of process safety incidents by the US Chemical Safety Board takes years. The EPA is suggesting that a one year time limitation (with the possibility of a written extension granted by the EPA) be the specified time limit.

The EPA is asking for feedback on this time limit:

  • EPA seeks comment on whether to add this condition to the incident investigation requirements or whether there are other options to ensure that unsafe conditions that led to the incident are addressed before a process is re-started. 
  • EPA also seeks comment on whether the different root cause analysis timeframes specified under the MACT and NSPS and proposed herein will cause any difficulties for sources covered under both rules, and if so, what approach EPA should take to resolve this issue.

The document also discusses reporting of root cause information to the EPA and suggests that common “categories” of root causes be reported to the EPA. The document even references an old (1996) version of the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree® and a potential list of root cause categories, They then request comments:

  • EPA seeks comment on the appropriateness of requiring root cause reporting as part of the accident history requirements of § 68.42, as well as the categories that should be considered and the timeframe within which the root cause information must be submitted.

Although I am flattered to be the “father” of this idea that root causes should be reported so that they may be learned from, I’m also concerned that people may think that simply selecting from a list of root causes is root cause analysis. Also, I’ve seen many lists of root causes that had bad categorization. The main problem is what I would call “blame” categorization. I’m not sure if the EPA would recognize the importance of the structure and limits that need to be enforced to have a good categorization system. (Many consultants don’t understand this, why should the EPA?)

As everyone who reads the Root Cause Analysis Blog knows, I am always preaching the enhanced use of root cause analysis to improve safety, process safety, patient safety, quality, equipment reliability, and operations. But I am hesitant to jump aboard a bandwagon to write federal regulations that require good management. Yes, I understand that lives are at stake. But every time a government regulation is written, it seems to cement a certain protocol and discourages progress. Imagine all the improvements we have made to TapRooT® since 1996. Would that progress be halted because the EPA cements the “categorization” of root causes in 1996? Or even worse… what if the EPA’s categories include “blame” categories and managers all over the chemical industry start telling investigators to stop looking for other system causes and find blame related root causes? It could happen.

I would suggest that readers watch for the publication of EPA’s revision of the RMP in the Federal Register and get their comments in on the topics listed above. You can’t blame the EPA for making bad regulations if you don’t take the opportunity to comment when the comments are requested.

Monday Accident & Lessons Leaned: Sure Looks Like an Equipment Failure … But What is the Root Cause?

February 25th, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2016 02 25 at 11 27 20 AM

When you look up in the air and this is what you see … it sure looks like an equipment failure. Bit what is the root cause? 

That’s what DTE Energy will be looking into when they investigate this failure.

How do you go beyond “It broke!” and find how and why and equipment failure occurred? We recommend using techniques developed by equipment expert Heinz Bloch and embedded in the Equifactor® Module of the TapRooT® Software.

For more information about the software and training, see:

The “Force” was with HSE this time in Star Wars Accident

February 11th, 2016 by

“The actor, Harrison Ford, was struck by a hydraulic metal door on the Pinewood set of the Millennium Falcon in June 2014.”

“The Health And Safety Executive has brought four criminal charges against Foodles Production (UK) Ltd – a subsidiary of Disney.”

“Foodles Production said it was “disappointed” by the HSE’s decision.”

Read more here


How Can TapRooT® Help Prevent Falls and Maintain a Fall Prevention Program?

January 7th, 2016 by


While reading Sentinel Event Alert 55 (SEA-55) from TJC issued September 28, 2015 on Fall Prevention, it occurred to me that TapRooT® can be used to aid in finding the root causes of the fall. Even more importantly, TapRooT® can be used to aid in maintaining your fall prevention program to ensure long-term success. The TJC lists the following common contributing factors (in TapRooT® these would be called “Causal Factors“):

  • Inadequate assessments
  • Communication Failures
  • Lack of adherence to protocols and safety practices
  • Inadequate staff orientation, supervision, staffing levels and skill mix
  • Deficiencies in the physical environment
  • Lack of Leadership

While these are good guidelines for what to look for and what data to gather, to us these do not represent root causes. These 6 items almost match up with most of the 7 Basic Categories on the back of our Root Cause Tree®. So as TapRooT® investigators, know you have to dig a bit deeper to find the true causes and define those at the Root Cause level not at the causal or contributing level.

All this being said, the more important reason I wanted to write this article is to highlight the use of your TapRooT® tools by using them for Proactive measures. How to examine and improve your fall management program and maintain continued success. Too many times we don’t think about the power of observation and the idea of raising awareness through communication. Each of these can be highlighted through the Proactive Process Flow below:


In SEA-55, two of the actions suggested by TJC were to 1) Lead an effort to raise awareness of the need to prevent falls resulting in injury and 2) Use a standardized, validated tool to identify risk factors for falls. These two items can benefit from the TapRooT® tools directly.

Starting with step 1 above in the Proactive Flow, use the SnapCharT® tool to outline the steps in patient assessment, highlight the steps that can or will affect the fall prevention portion of patient care, then use this flow as the basis for an observation program. By getting out and observing actual performance in the field you can do two things, show your concern for patient safety (and falls in this case) and gather actual performance data. These observations can be performed both in a scheduled and/or random fashion and can be done in any setting (ambulatory, non-ambulatory, clinic et cetera).

During the observation, document findings on the SnapCharT® and identify potential “Significant Issues” as they apply to fall prevention. This data can then be either evaluated using the Root Cause Tree® to define the areas of need for that single observation, or the data can be combined with other fall prevention observation data for use in an aggregate analysis or common cause analysis. With the aggregate analysis data from multiple observations can be combined, and “Significant Issues” can be identified based on multiple observations before an analysis using the Root Cause Tree® is performed. This could give you an overall bigger picture view of your processes.

Once the RCA is performed (in either situation), Steps 5-7 can be simply followed to produce some recommended actions to be implemented and measured using Corrective Action Helper® and SMARTER. And the beauty of this Proactive process is that you have not waited for a fall to learn.  You and your organization are preventing future issues before they manifest thus showing your patients and staff that you truly care about their safety.

If you would like to learn more about using your TapRooT® tools proactively you can contact me at for more information or you can attend any of our public seminars, 2-day or 5-day to learn more on both the reactive and proactive use of the TapRooT® tools!

Healthcare and the 3 Standard Corrective Actions

December 30th, 2015 by


Are you asking these two questions?

Are you asking two questions?

In all industries people struggle to create effective, measurable corrective actions. Many times we fall back to our standard ways of thinking and do what has been comfortable no matter the effectiveness we have seen in the past. In our courses we discuss the three “Standard” corrective actions:

  1. Training. Retrain everyone, not just those involved.
  2. Policies/Procedures. Write new policies or procedures or make the current ones longer.
  3. Discipline. Send a message to everyone else that a behavior is unacceptable whether or not there is fault.

When these are the standard actions, many times we have recurrence of events. I am not saying these actions can’t work, but many times if they are default answers it is much like putting a round peg in a square hole.

In this article a hospital in Hong Kong presents an overview of their findings and recommended actions to a Sentinel Event at the hospital. Review the Corrective Actions and ask these two questions:

1. Do they meet the needs of the system based on the findings? 

2. Do you see a correlation with our three standard corrective actions above?

Maybe there is a pattern… let us know your thoughts.

Monday Accident & Lessons Learned: Is Training the Right Corrective Action for this Fatal Accident?

November 30th, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2015 11 29 at 2 07 15 PM

Here is a link to the significant incident report:

It seems from the report that the appropriate seat belt was present. Therefore the only applicable action in the “Action required” section is:

Workers should be instructed, through training and inductions, regarding the importance of using the seatbelts provided in vehicles to reduce the impact of potential collisions.” 

In my instant root cause analysis using the Root Cause Tree®, I wonder why there wasn’t a Standards, Policies, and Administrative Controls Not Used Near Root Cause. That would get me to dig more deeply into the Enforcement NI root cause. 

What do you think? Was this a training root cause that needs a training corrective action?

Leave your comments below…

Safeguard Analysis for Finding Causal Factors

November 25th, 2015 by


A Causal Factor is nothing more than a mistake or an equipment failure that, if corrected, could have prevented the incident from happening.

Once you’ve gathered all the information you need for a TapRooT® investigation, you’re ready to start with the actual root cause analysis. However, it would be cumbersome to analyze the whole incident at once (like most systems expect you to do). Therefore, we break our investigation information into logical groups of information, called Causal Factor groups. So the first step here is to find Causal Factors.

Remember, a Causal Factor is nothing more than a mistake or an equipment failure that, if corrected, could have prevented the incident from happening (or at least made it less severe).  So we’re looking for these mistakes or failures on our SnapCharT®.  They often pop right off the page at you, but sometimes you need to look a little harder.  One way to make Causal Factor identification easier is to think of these mistakes as failed or inappropriately applied Safeguards.  Therefore, we can use a Safeguard Analysis to identify our Causal Factors.

There are just a few steps required to do this:

First, identify your Hazards, your Targets, and any Safeguards that were there, or should have been there.

Now, look for:

– an error that allowed a Hazard that shouldn’t have been there, or was larger than it should have been;

– an error that allowed a Safeguard to be missing;

– an error that allowed a Safeguard to fail;

– an error that allowed the Target to get too close to a Hazard; or

– an error that allowed the Incident to become worse after it occurred.

These errors are most likely your Causal Factors.

Let’s look at an example.  It’s actually not a full Incident, but a VERY near miss.  This video is a little scary!

Train Pedestrian Incident from TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis on Vimeo.

Let’s say we’ve collected all of our evidence, and the following SnapCharT is what we’ve found.  NOTE:  THIS IS NOT A REAL INVESTIGATION!  I’m sure there is a LOT more info that I would normally gather, but let’s use this as an example on how to find Causal Factors.  We’ll assume this is all the information we need here.

Picture1 Picture2

Now, we can identify the Hazards, Targets, and Safeguards:

Hazard Safeguard Target
Moving Train Fence Pedestrians
Pedestrians (they could have stayed off the tracks)

Using the error questions above, we can see that:

– An error allowed the Hazard to be too large (the train was speeding)

– An error allowed the Targets to get too close to the Hazard (the Pedestrians decided to go through the fence, putting them almost in contact with the Hazard)

These 2 errors are our Causal Factors, and would be identified like this:

Picture3 Picture4

We can now move on to our root cause analysis to understand the human performance factors that lead to this nearly tragic Incident.

Causal Factors are an important tool that allow TapRooT® to quickly and accurately identify root causes to Incidents.  Using Safeguard Analysis can make finding Causal Factors much simpler.

Sign up to receive tips like these in your inbox every Tuesday. Email Barb at and ask her to subscribe you to the TapRooT® Friends & Experts eNewsletter – a great resource for refreshing your TapRooT® skills and career development.

4 Root Cause Analysis Timesavers

September 23rd, 2015 by


I know how this works.  You get the notification that “something bad” happened, and you are assigned to perform a root cause analysis.  Your initial reaction is, “There goes the rest of my week!”

However, there is no reason that a relatively simple analysis needs to take an inordinate amount of time.  There are several things you can do to make sure that you can efficiently conduct the investigation, find solid root causes, and implement effective corrective actions.  Here are a few ideas to help you make the process as smooth as possible.

1.  The first thing that needs to be in place is a Detailed Investigation Policy for your company.  When does a RCA need to be performed?  What types of problems trigger an RCA?  What is the decision-making chain of command?  Who makes the notifications?  Who is notified?  Who will be on the team?  All of these questions need to be easily answered in order to quickly get the process started.  I have seen investigators receive notification of a problem over a week after the actual incident.  By this time, evidence has been lost, key players are no longer available, and peoples’ memories have faded.  All of this makes the investigation just that much harder.  If you can streamline this initial decision-making and notification process so that the investigation can start within hours, you’ll find the actual investigation goes MUCH more smoothly.

2.  Probably the biggest timesaver is to Be Proficient in the TapRooT® Process.  We recommend you use TapRooT® at least once per month to maintain proficiency in the system.  You can’t be good at anything if you only use it sparingly.  I often hear people tell me, “Luckily, we don’t have enough incidents to use TapRooT® more than once per year.”  Imagine if I asked you to put together an Excel spreadsheet using pivot tables, and you haven’t opened Excel since 2014!  You’d have to relearn some key concepts, slowing you down.  The same is true of an investigation process.  If you only do an investigation once each year, you aren’t looking very hard for incidents.  I’ll guarantee there are plenty of things that need to be analyzed.  Each analysis makes you that much better at the process.  Maybe go back to point #1 above and update your investigation trigger points.

3.  When you actually get started on an investigation, the first thing you should do is Start A Spring SnapCharT®.  This initial chart gets your investigator juices flowing.  It helps you think about the timeline of the incident, identifying holes in your knowledge and questions you need to ask in order to fill those holes.  It is the first step in the process.  As soon as you get that initial phone call, start building your SnapCharT®!

4.  Finally, although it is optional, The TapRooT® Software can really speed up your analysis.  The SnapCharT® tool is extremely user friendly, and the Root Cause Dictionary is only a right-click away.  It guides you through the investigation process so you don’t have to try to remember where you’re going.

You won’t perform an investigation in 5 minutes.  However, by following these tips, you relatively quickly and efficiently move through the process, with terrific results.

To learn more about learning all of the essential techniques to perform a root cause investigation, read about our 2-Day TapRooT® Incident Investigation and Root Cause Analysis Course.

Why What You Think About Root Cause Training is Wrong

August 5th, 2015 by


People are often surprised when they learn the reasons they haven’t taken root cause analysis training are invalid.  Here are the top three excuses people give that are wrong:

1. Most employers aren’t seeking that skill when hiring.

Root cause analysis is a top skill valued by employers because mistakes don’t “just happen” but can be traced to well-defined causal factors that can be corrected.  A bonus to root cause analysis training is that root causes identified over time across multiple occurrences can be used for proactive improvement. For example, if a significant number of investigations point to confusing or incomplete SPAC (Standards, Policies, or Admin Controls), improvement of this management system can begin. Trending of root causes allows development of systematic improvements as well as evaluation of the impact of corrective actions.  What boss doesn’t appreciate an employee who can prevent HUGE problems and losses from occurring?  Promoting your root cause analysis skills is an impressive topic of conversation on any job interview.

2. It takes too long to learn enough to really use it on my job.

In just 2 days you can learn all of the essentials to conduct a root cause analysis and add this impressive skill to your resume.  You will be equipped to find and fix the root causes of incidents, accidents, quality problems, near-misses, operational errors, hospital sentinel events and other types of problems.  The essential TapRooT® Techniques include:

  • SnapCharT® – a simple, visual technique for collecting and organizing information to understand what happened.
  • Root Cause Tree® – a systematic, repeatable way to find the root causes of human performance and equipment problems — the Root Cause Tree® helps investigators see beyond their current knowledge.
  • Corrective Action Helper® – help lead investigators “outside the box” to develop effective corrective actions.

There are all kinds of training programs you can enroll in for your career development that take months, even years, to complete.  A 2-day investment for this valuable training program will equip you with a powerful skill that will set you apart from the rest.

3. I don’t have enough technical knowledge to take training like that.

It doesn’t matter if you have a high school diploma or an MBA.  It doesn’t matter if you do not know much about root cause analysis beyond the description provided below.  Our attendees, at every level of education and technical skill, find that they can engage in the training and take away root cause analysis skills to implement immediately.  It is not a “sit and listen” training – attendees do hands on exercises to develop their new knowledge in the course.

Root cause analysis is a systematic process used in investigating and fixing the causes of major accidents, everyday incidents, minor near-misses, quality issues, human errors, maintenance problems, medical mistakes, productivity issues, manufacturing mistakes and environmental releases.

Root cause analysis training provides:

  • the knowledge to identify what, how and why something happened, and this knowledge is vital to preventing it from happening again.
  • the understanding that root causes are identifiable and can be managed with corrective actions.
  • an ease of data collection, root cause identification, and corrective action recommendations and implementation.

Still not convinced root cause analysis training is for you?

GUARANTEE for the 2-Day TapRooT® Incident Investigation and Root Cause Analysis Course: Attend this course, go back to work, and use what you have learned to analyze accidents, incidents, near-misses, equipment failures, operating issues, or quality problems. If you don’t find root causes that you previously would have overlooked and if you and your management don’t agree that the corrective actions that you recommend are much more effective, just return your course materials/software and we will refund the entire course fee.

CLICK HERE to register for the 2-Day TapRooT® Incident Investigation and Root Cause Analysis Course.

Root Cause Analysis Tip: 6 Reasons to Look for Generic Root Causes

July 22nd, 2015 by


“Allowing generic causes to fester can sometimes cause similar problems to pop up in unexpected areas.”

You have established a good performance improvement program, supported by performing solid incident investigations.  Your teams are finding good root causes, and your corrective action program is tracking through to completion.  But you still seem to be seeing more repeat issues than you expect.  What could be the problem?

We find many companies are doing a great job using TapRooT® to find and correct the root causes discovered during their investigations.  But many companies are skipping over the Generic Cause Analysis portion of the investigation process.  While fixing the individual root causes are likely to prevent that particular issue from happening again, allowing generic causes to fester can sometimes cause similar problems to pop up in unexpected areas.

6 Reasons to Look for Generic Root Causes

Here are 6 reasons to conduct a generic cause analysis on your investigation results:

1. The same incident occurs again at another facility.

2. Your annual review shows the same root cause from several incident investigations.

3.  Your audits show recurrence of the same behavior issues.

4. You apply the same corrective action over and over.

5. Similar incidents occur in different departments.

6. The same Causal Factor keeps showing up.

These indicators point to the need to look deeper for generic causes.  These generic issues are allowing similar root causes and causal factors to show up in seemingly unrelated incidents.  When management is reviewing incident reports and audit findings, one of your checklist items should be to verify that generic causes were considered and either addressed or verified not to be present.  Take a look at how your incident review checklist and make sure you are conducting a generic cause analysis during the investigation.

Finding and correcting generic causes are basically a freebie; you’ve already performed the investigation and root cause analysis.  There is no reason not to take a few extra minutes and verify that you are fully addressing any generic issues.

Learn more about finding and fixing root causes in our 2-day or 5-day TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis courses!

IT/Computer Problems and Root Cause Analysis

July 8th, 2015 by

United grounds all of their flights for two hours due to “computer problems” (see the CNBC story). 

The NYSE stops trading for over three hours due to an “internal technical issue” (see the CNBC story).

Computer issues can cost companies big bucks and cause public relations headaches. Do you think they should be applying state of the art root cause analysis tools both reactively and proactively to prevent and avoid future problems?

TapRooT® has been used to improve computer reliability and security by performing root cause analysis of computer/IT related events and developing effective corrective actions. The first TapRooT® uses for computer/high reliability network problems where banking and communication service providers that started using TapRooT® in the late 1990’s. The first computer security application of TapRooT® that we knew about was in the early 2000s. 

Need to improve your root cause analysis of computer and IT issues? Attend one of our TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Courses. See the upcoming course schedule at:

Robot Made a Human Error and a Worker was Killed

July 8th, 2015 by


The 22-year-old man died in hospital after the accident at a plant in Baunatal, 100km north of Frankfurt. He was working as part of a team of contractors installing the robot when it grabbed him, according to the German car manufacturer. Volkswagen’s Heiko Hillwig said it seemed that human error was to blame.

A worker grabs the wrong thing and often gets asked, “what were you thinking?” A robot picks up the wrong thing and we start looking for root causes.

Read the article below to learn more about the fatality and ask why would we not always look for root causes once we identify the actions that occurred?


Would you know if your corrective action resulted in an accident?

June 30th, 2015 by

“Doctor… how do you know that the medicine you prescribed him fixed the problem,” the peer asked. “The patient did not come back,” said the doctor.

No matter what the industry and or if the root causes found for an issue was accurate, the medicine can be worse than the bite. Some companies have a formal Management of Change Process or a Design of Experiment Method that they use when adding new actions.  On the other extreme, some use the Trial and Error Method… with a little bit of… this is good enough and they will tell us if it doesn’t work.

You can use the formal methods listed above or it can be as simple for some risks to just review with the right people present before implementation of an action occurs. We teach to review for unintended consequences during the creation of and after the implementation of corrective or preventative actions in our 7 Step TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Process. This task comes with four basic rules first:

1. Remove the risk/hazard or persons from the risk/hazard first if possible. After all, one does not need to train somebody to work safer or provide better tools for the task, if the task and hazard is removed completely. (We teach Safeguard Analysis to help with this step)

2. Have the right people involved throughout the creation of, implementation of and during the review of the corrective or preventative action. Identify any person who has impact on the action, owns the action or will be impacted by the change, to include process experts. (Hint, it is okay to use outside sources too.)

3. Never forget or lose sight of why you are implementing a corrective or preventative action. In our analysis process you must identify the action or inaction (behavior of a person, equipment or process) and each behaviors’ root causes. It is these root causes that must be fixed or mitigated for, in order for the behaviors to go away or me changed. Focus is key here!

4. Plan an immediate observation to the change once it is implemented and a long term audit to ensure the change sustained.

Simple… yes? Maybe? Feel free to post your examples and thoughts.

Product Safety Recall…… one of the few times that I see Quality and Safety Merge

June 22nd, 2015 by

We can all remember some type of major product recall that affected us in the past (tires, brakes, medicine….) or recalls that may be impacting us today (air bags). These recalls all have a major theme, a company made something and somebody got hurt or worse. This is a theme of “them verses those” perception.

Now stop and ask, when is the last time quality and safety was discussed as one topic in your current company’s operations?

You received a defective tool or product….

  1. You issued a defective tool or product….
  2. A customer complained….
  3. A customer was hurt….
  4. ???….

Each of the occurrences above often triggers an owner for each type of problem:

  1. The supplier…
  2. The vendor…
  3. The contractor…
  4. The manufacturer….
  5. The end user….

Now stop and ask, who would investigate each type of problem? What tools would each group use to investigate? What are their expertise and experiences in investigation, evidence collection, root cause analysis, corrective action development or corrective action implementation?

This is where we create our own internal silo’s for problem solving; each problem often has it’s own department as listed in the company’s organizational chart:

  1. Customer Service (Quality)
  2. Manufacturing (Quality or Engineering)
  3. Supplier Management (Supply or Quality)
  4. EHS (Safety)
  5. Risk (Quality)
  6. Compliance (?)

The investigations then take the shape of the tools and experiences of those departments training and experiences.

Does anyone besides me see a problem or an opportunity here?

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