Root Cause Analysis in an Audit – a simple example

When you perform an environmental audit and uncover anomalies, you should also do a simple root cause analysis. How do you do it? Here is a simple example:

Let’s say you are inspecting a hazardous waste storage area and you discover that one of the drums has no “hazardous waste” label on it. You do a root cause analysis. There are basically three possible reasons why the label is missing. One reason is that no one cares about the containers in the storage area. Another reason is that the label has simply fallen off. The third reason may well be that the plant personnel is not aware of the requirement to have a label on every container. You talk to the employees at the plant and you determined that the people there are pretty conscientious about the requirement and that they have received the necessary annual refresher training is required under RCRA. So the only plausible explanation is that the label had fallen off the container.

Then you ask the next question: Why did the label fall off the container? Once again there are several possible reasons. One — the container has been sitting around for so long that the adhesive power of the label has worn off. That does not seem to be a possible explanation since the plant personnel are quite conscientious about moving the drums off the premise before the 90-day time limit is up.

The other reason may well be that the label is of such low quality that it has very limited adhesive power thereby causing it to fall off the container after a short period of time. That seems to be the more plausible explanation.

Then you asked the next question: How did the plant end up with such low quality adhesive labels. In talking to the purchasing department, you discover that in an effort to save money, the purchasing agent decided to purchase the least expensive labels with the least amount of adhesive power.

Now you have the root cause of the problem-the lack of a hazardous waste label on a container. The remedy to this situation is for the purchasing agent to purchase a higher quality label.

By asking mostly open-ended questions, you should be able to find the root cause of most environmental problems.

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