Taking action

While I applaud David Bonyuet for addressing the issue of corrective vs. preventive action in the August 2008 issue of QP (Expert Answers, p. 8), I wonder whether his definitions confuse corrective and preventive actions, implying that preventive action and opportunity for improvement are synonymous.

My understanding is that corrective action is taken where noncompliance has occurred, preventive action prevents noncompliance that has not yet occurred from happening, and continuous improvement suggests improvement when there is neither correction nor prevention of noncompliance.

I believe the definitions given are flawed in this way:

Definition given: "If a situation is causing a failure or any other issue in the process, then something needs to be done immediately and therefore is a corrective action because you are correcting something that is not working properly."

Flaw: "Or any other issue in the process" is erroneous. There must be failure when failure is defined as not complying. This can be product or process noncompliance, an isolated incident or a systemic problem. "Other issues" that do not involve failure should be addressed by preventive action or opportunity for improvement based on whether potential for noncompliance exists.

Definition given: "There are cases, however, when you don’t have an issue at all, or when a solution can be implemented later. The process is not as efficient as it could be in that case, but it’s still functional, and there is no immediate risk. It might have been operating that way since day one, but a more efficient, cost-effective or safe mode of operation exists. Some of these actions start as customer suggestions or the recognition of an opportunity for improvement by someone inside the company."

Flaw: In this definition of preventive action, there is no mention of potential noncompliance, and it confuses preventive action with opportunity for improvement.

It is very important for those in quality to put their heads together and ensure the definitions we provide the public and each other are commonly agreed on and understood by all.

David Spoon, CQA
Quality systems engineer
Bucyrus International
Roanoke, VA

Author’s response

Some companies operate differently, so David Spoon’s point of view is somewhat valid. As far I know, however, the majority of companies have these two process forms:

  • Corrective action request (CAR).
  • Preventive action request (PAR).

Some companies have a formal continuous improvement process, during which a team works on specific projects with some potential for return or just looks for issues to solve. But how does an employee report something that can be done to minimize errors in his or her daily work? Through a PAR.

The PAR should also be used to prevent noncompliance that has not yet occurred from occurring. In my opinion, however, the PAR is also a way to initiate an improvement to the quality system.

In fact, I agree with Spoon that the continuous improvement plan relies on the CAR or PAR forms to proceed; that is not an isolated process. The U.K. Health Protection Agency shares the same definition: "Preventive action is divided into two sets of actions—risk assessment and continuous improvement."1 Qastation, a blog dedicated to the quality profession, also points to a similar approach, stating that preventive action is "A proactive approach to… initiate an improvement to the quality system."2

My point with these references is to illustrate that a preventive action is related to opportunity for improvement in the system.

When I mentioned "other issues," I was referring to noncompliance situations (not all noncompliances are failures), such as quality findings. I wouldn’t define failure as a noncompliance, as this reader suggests—not even in the quality group.

I agree that I should have emphasized the nonconformity of some situations in the PAR section; however, PAR is an improvement action and deals with issues related to the quality program and compliance of the quality process. CAR is reactive, PAR is proactive, and they both contribute to a company’s overall continuous improvement efforts.

Of course, my understanding of the concepts of CAR and PAR might be erroneous, and this reader might be closer to reality.

David Bonyuet


  1. U.K. Health Protection Agency, "Corrective and Preventive Action," www.hpa-standardmethods.org.uk/documents/qsop/pdf/qsop36.pdf, Aug. 1, 2007.
  2. Qastation, "Corrective Action vs. Preventive Action," qastation.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/corrective-action-vs-preventive-action, April 10, 2008.

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