Root Cause Analysis: 5 "Whys"

  September 2014
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 Many times in the meat-processing industry, when something goes wrong the sign or symptom of the problem is what is seen and the cause is often overlooked. The cause is not always obvious and often conclusions are made that do not reach the root cause of the problem. This is because the problem may not be investigated deep enough. The practice of Root Cause Analysis (RCA) tries to help identify the root cause of a problem. There are several tools to use when determining the root cause but the more simple tool to use is the “5 Whys”.

How to Use the 5 “Whys”

1. Write down the problem. This will help the operator and the team specify the problem accurately.

2. Think about why the problem occurred and write down the answer.

3. If this “why?” doesn’t thoroughly answer the initial question, ask “why?” again, and write the answer down.

4. Continue to ask “why?” until the operator and the team have identified the root cause of the problem.

5 “Whys” Example

Problem Statement: A mouse is found in the mouse trap.

Rather than just removing the mouse from the trap, find out why there is a mouse in the trap. The mouse in the trap is only the symptom of the problem, not the actual problem.

1. Why is there a mouse in the trap?

  • A mouse entered the building.

2.   Why (or how) did the mouse enter the building?
  • The building has no potential pest entries other than a door left open.

3. Why was the door left open?
  • Because when employees go on their break they leave the door open allowing mice to enter the

4.   Why did the employees leave the door open?
  • They are not aware of the risks this may pose to food safety.

5. Why are they not aware?
  • This requirement was not included in the regular GMP training.

The root cause is incomplete GMP training.

How should this be dealt with to ensure it doesn’t happen again? Update the training program and re-train all employees.

The number of “whys” it takes to get to the root cause depends on the situation being analyzed. But the rule of thumb is it usually takes asking 5 “whys”.

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This information published to the web on September 17, 2014.
Last Reviewed/Revised on March 27, 2017.