Root Cause


Definition - What does Root Cause mean?

The root cause of an incident or accident in the workplace is the triggering event or condition that results in a workplace injury, illness, or near miss. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recommends that all employers conduct a root cause analysis whenever a workplace incident or near miss occurs. During a root cause investigation, an employer should seek to identify all of the factors that contributed to an event. Such investigations should look beyond the easily identifiable, or surface, causes and identify systematic errors or flaws that enabled the event to occur.

The root cause of an event may be thought of as the underlying condition that led to the existence of the immediate cause.

WorkplaceTesting explains Root Cause

The root cause of an incident is not always the sames as the immediate cause. For example, if employees are exposed to toxic fumes while working in an enclosed space, their physical exposure to the fumes would be classified as the direct cause of their injuries. However, an investigation of the incident should determine the root cause.

This root cause could be a sudden mechanical failure in the ventilation system. Or, the root cause could be a failure to maintain the ventilation system leading to a predictable failure. The root cause could also be an improper design of the work area or an improper use of the space. Further investigation might reveal that lax safety procedures or improper conduct caused the risk.

Identifying the root cause of a workplace incident is an essential step in identifying workplace hazards and preventing future injuries or accidents. Without identifying the underlying reasons for an incident or near miss, steps cannot be taken to eliminate those causes. Thus, a thorough investigation of accidents, work-related illnesses, and near misses should include an identification of the root cause or causes of the situation.

This definition was written in the context of Workplace Safety
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