5 Whys to the Root Cause

5 Whys to the Root Cause
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In this Episode of Safeti School, we provide an overview of the 5 Whys method of problem-solving. The method, originally created by Toyota, is widely used in a range industrial applications. It can be used as a simple way to help you identify the root causes of your health and safety issues.

Want to read? Please scroll down for the transcript version of this podcast if you’d prefer to read today or just use it as a reference when listening to the audio!

Additional Resources

5 Whys Example: download this simple example below to help you understand the 5 Whys investigation process.

Similar Episodes: Hierarchy of Control – 5 key pillars to manage risk, What is Risk Assessment?

Safeti School: for more free, educational HSE content visit the Safeti School podcast page

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‘5 Whys to the Root Cause’ Podcast Transcript

Welcome to Safeti School – We crunch down health safety and environment learning into simple bite-sized snippets that you can use for your business or your career. Helping you improve your knowledge boost your performance and maybe even providing some inspiration. Let’s get started….

One of the most simple and well known ways of investigating an incident or an accident to find the root cause is by using what’s known as the five wise method.If you’re not familiar with the five whys method at all. I would suggest that you look at resource section of the podcast page where I’ve included an example of a 5 whys diagram. It’ll give you an idea of what it looks like as we discuss how it’s done.

What is the 5 Whys Method?

The 5 Whys method is really a simple but powerful tool that can be used for any problem-solving activity and we do use it in health and safety. It’s a technique that will help you get past the immediate causes and symptoms of a problem down to the the underlying issues. This will allow you to come up with solutions that will hopefully help you avoid the same scenarios happening over and over again.

So why is it called 5 Whys?

Well, very simply the method requires you to ask ‘why?’ five times. Generally, whenever you start with a problem statement and ask why over and over again by the fifth time that you do it, you usually get to roundabout the root cause of the issue. Sometimes it might only take you three whys or it may take you a lot more whys before you actually get to the root cause of the problem. Also, there may be more than one root cause.

So it might be multiple root causes that you then have to go and investigate. Let’s take a look at a quick example of one. As with any health and safety accident or incident, we begin with a problem statement, which you always must agree on whether you’re working by yourself or in a group.

Let’s look at an example…..

We’re going to use the case of someone falling over and breaking their wrist i.e. a slip or trip accident. Something that often happens in workplaces. We start with our problem statement, which is that someone fell and broke their wrist.

Of course, the first thing we must do is ask ‘why?’. Typically when we answer the first question within the 5 whys process we are usually looking at the obvious aspects of a problem. The methodology encourages you to go deeper and deeper as you repeat that question to look into the underlying reasons as to why something happened.

In this case, if we asked ‘Why did someone fall and break their wrist?’ You may come up with an answer such as. ‘there was ice on the ground’. As well as that, it’s worth pointing out that there may be multiple reasons why something has happened.

In which case, you would branch off the answer and provide two or three reasons underneath the first why. For each of those subsequent answers then you actually ask another set of questions or ‘whys?’ underneath each one. In this this example, we’re just going to use one. The agreed answer was that ‘There was ice on the ground‘.

Again, you would ask why was that the case? Maybe that there was no salt or grit applied to the ground to remove the risk of someone slipping on the ice. OK, let’s assume there was no salt or grit applied to the ground. You then ask why again and you’ll start to see that we’re getting deeper toward the root of the problem.

Digging deeper by asking Why?

Why was there no salt or grit applied to the ground? The answer may be something like ‘No one was given responsibility to apply salt or grit to the ground‘. You would then ask why again, and you may come up with an answer such as ‘It was not identified in the risk assessment for the site‘.

Okay, as you can see we’re getting towards the more systems and processes oriented aspects of this accident. Once you identify that the issue or the risk wasn’t included in a risk assessment for site, you would then ask then ask why again.

A typical answer for this might be – ‘the person who completed the risk assessment wasn’t trained or competent regarding health and safety‘.

In other words, they had no real understanding of this risk and the potential magnitude of it. Therefore they didn’t know that it was something which needed to be included and thus is was missed.

As you can see by fifth time that you’ve asked that question ‘why?’, you’ve got to the point where you’re able to identify that there’s been a management failing. This would possibly relate to the training that’s been provided to the workforce and the people carrying out the work.

You may want to dig deeper into that if you like it’s completely up to you and this example is only for illustrative purposes. This simple example demonstrates how by asking ‘why?’ five times you can work towards the root cause of an problem or an accident.

It’s something that’s helpful for team to use in the problem-solving process. The great thing about the 5 whys method is that it is fairly simple. It’s can be used by anyone provided they are shown correctly how to do it.

Things to remember about Five Whys

There are a couple of fundamental things that you have to remember when you’re using this problem-solving technique and these apply regardless of the context. The first thing is just to remember that you must agree on what the problem is initially e.g. the statement that ‘the employee fell and broke their wrist’. I would advise completing the 5 whys in a group.

It allows you to bring in the knowledge of multiple people and that feeds into the analysis process and helps you get to a root cause or multiple root causes. This also ensures that the outcomes are not too heavily swayed by the opinion of one or two people.

Another thing to remember as with any investigation is to make sure that you gather as much relevant data and information as you can to illustrate the problem. Share the the information with the group before you go through the proces. Sometimes when you ask a question ‘Why?’, you may have more than one strong answer to the question and you’ll need to branch it out into two or three aspects of that that one question. Then you dig deeper into each of them.

When that happens, you may want to split up into a couple of smaller groups and then come back together again. Make sure that whenever you get to the answer for the particular ‘why’ that everybody is in agreement with it. You will come to a natural conclusion for each branch where there’s no more facts or data to be found. You will have reached your root cause for each of those branches and should have an action point.

A word from Toyota on the 5 Whys…..

I want to make a final point on this and it comes directly from Toyota, who were the company who originated this methodology in the first place. They reiterated the point that whenever you are using this technique, the people involved in the process must have the appropriate level of technical knowledge and competence to find the root cause.

If you feel like the 5 Whys model is quite limited and doesn’t draw enough technical detail and direction out. It is often useful to combine it with other tools such as a fish-bone diagram, and we’ll cover that in a future episode.

That’s it for this episode of Safeti School.We hope this was helpful. If so,please remember to rip review and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes Google podcasts or Spotify and remember for more health safety and environment help.You can visit us at Sea ft.com until next time. Take care.

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