Corrective vs Preventive – Is there a Difference?

Corrective and Preventive Actions are key elements in any management system. However, they are particularly key in systems focused on Continual Improvement. Any business using ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001, or AS/NZS 4801 as the core of its management systems should have this type of focus. Unfortunately, many still don’t. The difference between a Corrective Action and a Preventive Action is often misunderstood, so we have outlined the differences between corrective vs preventive below.

Corrective Action

Corrective action deals with a non-conformity that has occurred.

For example, having to buy a new tyre after getting a puncture – the problem has already occurred. Minimising the likelihood of it occurring again could involve steps such as checking tyre pressures regularly.

Preventive Action

Preventive action addresses the potential for a non-conformity to occur, such as refuelling a vehicle. Through normal use, a car will eventually run out of petrol. However, by monitoring the petrol gauge you can avoid this problem.


Corrective action requires you to understand the problem that has occurred and to use root cause analysis to uncover the real cause of the problem.
ISO 9001 explains that corrective action eliminates the cause of non-conformities to 
prevent recurrence. Preventive action requires you to conduct trend analysis to identify issues that may lead to non-conformances and address them before they become non-conformances.

Furthermore, preventive action determines and eliminates the causes of potential nonconformities to prevent occurrence.

Simply put: Corrective Action is based on a non-conformance event that has happened in the past. Preventive Action is based on preventing a non-conformance event in the future. Both require a focus on continual improvement and both are important and integral parts of any business a focus on continual improvement. Both should use some type of system for logging and monitoring in order to identify trends. The business should determine if their actions are having the desired effect in terms of reducing non-conformances.

Important footnote

In the new release ISO standards released in 2015 or due for release in 2016:

  • ISO 9001:2015 Quality management system
  • ISO 14001:2015 Environmental management system
  • ISO 45001:2016 Occupation health and safety management system

the term preventive action will not be used. In these, standards one of the key changes is that preventive action is being replaced with organizations having to use a risk-based approach in their management system and then using strategies/ processes/ methods/ controls to mitigate those risks. Hopefully, this risk-based approach will be better understood in the future than preventive action has been in the past.


Want more information about Corrective and Preventive action?

Check out some other articles below

SciQual released a useful brochure available here

Westcott, R. Corrective vs. Preventive Action. Quality Progress. March 2015

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