Preventive Action: Definition, Planning and Comparison

Updated February 3, 2023

Almost every individual and company can use preventive action for a variety of tasks and circumstances. Preventive action refers to the steps that an individual or organization takes to avoid a potential problem. Regardless of your role within a management team, understanding preventive action and how to use it can help you improve efficiency.

In this article, we discuss preventive action, the steps you can take to create a preventive action plan and the differences between preventive and corrective action.

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What is preventive action?

Preventive action is an action that an organization's management takes to prevent a potential problem or undesirable situation from materializing, based on similar past situations. An appropriate preventive action process includes ways in which the organization's management can determine if the actions required to prevent an issue from occurring work properly, with the exact steps and methods usually differing from one organization to another.

Once they identify a potential problem, organizations can make preventive action plans that describe how to avoid an issue, undesirable situation or potential hazard. Sometimes, companies may also include ways in which the organization can manage its workflow for better safety and efficiency. Some examples of preventive actions include:

  • Implementing safety training programs for employees

  • Performing regular maintenance operations on tools and equipment

  • Creating emergency plans in case of unexpected events, such as fires or natural disasters

  • Implementing an employee code of conduct

  • Updating company safety policies and procedures

Related: What Is a Loss Prevention Manager?

How to create a preventive action plan

Consider following these steps to create a preventive action plan:

1. Assess the root cause

Before creating the preventive action plan, first identify the root cause. This reduces the possibility that another underlying issue may be what triggers the problem. By first assessing the root cause of the potential problem, you can later determine the steps required to prevent it. You can use feedback, audits and workflow charts to find and identify the potential causes and eventually determine the root cause of the issue.

Related: 15 Types of Audits for Your Business (and When To Use Them)

2. Evaluate the potential risks and opportunities

A preventive action's purpose aims to prevent various issues from occurring but also focuses on avoiding any additional issues after implementation. Before determining how to address the problem's root cause, evaluate the possibility of creating new issues in an attempt to prevent one. You can also evaluate the chances of similar issues occurring and whether you may have the opportunity to use the same preventive actions to avoid them.

Related: What Is an Action Plan and How To Make One

3. Create a list of steps

Next, you can start determining the steps to take to make sure you prevent the issue from occurring. This may include identifying the people in charge of taking the preventive measures, determining exactly what measures they can take to remove the possibility of the problem occurring and outlining the feedback mechanisms that allow the organization's management to assess the plan's efficiency later. Try to keep your plan flexible enough to allow for adjustments later, based on feedback and results.

Related: How To Delegate Tasks in the Workplace: 7 Tips

4. Determine the plan's schedule and costs

Once everyone involved knows the plan, you can discuss further details. Examples of these include the schedule, goals and budget. These questions can help management determine whether the benefit of executing the plan outweighs the cost of the implementation, based on the difference between the potential gains and the resources required to execute the plan. At this stage, you can also evaluate and compare the costs and benefits of any alternative plans to find the one that offers the best outcomes for the organization.

Related: Understanding Issues Management in Business (Plus Steps)

5. Plan for continuous assessment

Because the preventive action plan addresses a potential but currently non-existent problem, the plan and outcomes require consistent evaluation and measurement. Once you begin executing your strategy, you can look to make changes based on new information and feedback from those in charge. Ensure that you encourage or require the executors of the plan to develop and communicate reports and feedback throughout the process.

Related: Example of a Quality Management System (With Definition and Types)

6. Evaluate your results

The final step of the process involves determining ways to test whether the plan was a success. This may require evaluating various key performance indicators based on your actions and the possibility of the issue returning at a later date. Being able to determine the efficacy of the plan can help you improve the process and implementation for future preventive action.

Related: How To Conduct an After-Action Review

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Preventive action vs. corrective action

Both preventive and corrective actions allow an organization to improve its operations and customer satisfaction. The main difference between the two is that, while a preventive action plan is a set of actions you take with the purpose of preventing a potential issue, a corrective action plan addresses the root cause of an existing problem and aims to eliminate it. This means that preventive action takes place before a potential issue occurs, while corrective action acts as an effort to mitigate the issue after it occurs.

Organizations that use a quality management system typically use both corrective and preventive actions as part of their efforts to increase their operations and customer satisfaction levels. The process for taking corrective action is as follows:

  1. Identify the issue. The first step usually includes defining the issue clearly.

  2. Determine the magnitude of the issue. Once you identify the issue, the quality management team attempts to determine how much of an effect it has on the organization's well-being.

  3. Take action to limit the issue's scope. Before attempting to actually eliminate the problem, take certain actions to prevent it from evolving into a bigger problem.

  4. Find the issue's root cause. To eliminate the problem, the quality management team first tries to identify its root cause. This way, they can then make sure they eliminate an underlying issue, as opposed to simply addressing a surface issue.

  5. Create an action plan to fix the root cause. After determining the root cause of the problem, you can determine the steps for eliminating it, including how much it cost, how to source the funds, who approves the operation and how it creates a return on investment.

  6. Execute the plan. Once you have a completed plan, the people in charge can execute it in an attempt to resolve the problem.

  7. Check the plan's success. After executing the plan, make sure it was effective, meaning that it succeeded in eliminating the problem's root cause, by tracking performance data and gathering feedback from everyone involved.

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