Root Cause Analysis (RCA) gets to the bottom of an issue so that action can be taken to fix it permanently. By systematically peeling away layers of causes and effects, RCA identifies breakdowns in processes and systems that contributed to the event. Done correctly, RCA will improve safety, reduce future incidents – and ultimately lower your total cost of risk. Here are 6 tips for performing a successful Root Cause Analysis:

1. Collect the right information. Your analysis will only be as good as the data you collect, so compiling comprehensive, accurate, and consistent information about your incidents is essential. RCA software can provide intuitive form design and simple entry screens to ensure you are capturing the right information at first instance.

2. Create a fear-free incident reporting environment. You can’t investigate something that was never reported. To be effective, all incidents must be reported. To that end, consider opening up incident reporting to anyone in the organization and create a fear-free reporting environment by allowing reports to be made anonymously. If you have the information, you can take action to reduce those costs.

3. Look beyond the incident report. The incident report is the best place to start identifying events to be investigated; however, it is critical to dig deeper than just what the form states. Take a step back to understand the full chain of events and relationships that led to the incident. Get the right team in the room to discuss the event and ask all those personally involved in the event, those familiar with processes and systems, and a trained RCA facilitator to lead the discussion.

4. Ask questions. The five whys technique is helpful in digging for answers. Start with the problem and work backwards to sequence all of the contributing events. Ask why the incident happened. Take that answer and ask why again, drilling down until you reach a cause that can’t be broken down any further. Explore all potential causes initially, and narrow down the list to the most likely culprits. You’ll end up with a cause-and-effect diagram that will lead you to the source of the problem. When you believe you’ve reached the root cause and not another contributing factor, check your work by asking:

a) Would the event have occurred if this cause was not present?

b) Will the problem happen again if this cause is corrected or eliminated?

If the answer is no to both questions, there is a good chance you have uncovered the underlying cause. If not, keep digging. Note that there may be multiple root causes, each of which must be addressed to prevent similar incidents in the future.

5. Focus your attention where you can have the greatest impact. Since very few companies have the time or resources to drill down into every incident or claim, it is important to focus attention where you can have the greatest impact. About 80% of your issues will be caused by 20% of your problems – known as the Pareto Principle. Develop action plans around your key issues that clearly state what corrective measures need to be taken for each root cause, when they need to be done, and who is responsible. Then after you have corrected the issues, it is critical to assess your success. The only way to know you truly found and fixed the root cause of the problem is to compare incident data over time. If the problem was fixed and you performed a successful Root Cause Analysis, you should see a significant downward trend in similar incidents.

6. Leverage technology. Many organizations find it difficult to identify incident/near miss trends because workflows, business processes, and technology are too cumbersome for employees to document events in a timely and meaningful way. Software can help you simplify and streamline the root cause analysis process by seamlessly integrating claim, incident and cause data into one platform. Software tools designed to support successful Root Cause Analysis follow a structured approach to capture and analyze data, identify and implement corrective actions, and track the progress of new initiatives. You can assign and perform the RCA model that makes the most sense for the given incident and get accurate, real-time results to quickly identify the root-cause and implement corrective actions to improve safety.

RCA works to solve the issue at the root itself in an efficient, cost-effective way, which can have far-reaching benefits for the organization. It can uncover previously hidden relationships between causes and symptoms and provide enduring solutions that will result in increased safety and lower costs. And by successfully getting to the root cause of one problem, you may have solved several others along the way – which can have a significant impact on your Total Cost of Risk (TCOR).