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Find the cause: 5 whys?

Why is it important to find the cause?

Imagine there is a problem, for example the ladder is broken. The first action you take is to repair the ladder, or throw it away and get a new one. This is known as Corrective Action, it addresses the effect and makes it safe to carry out THIS job.

However, has it solved the problem? Someone is using a different ladder in a different part of your site. They are not paying attention. This ladder is also broken. When they use it, then fall and injure themselves.

What we want is a way to learn from problems (or incidents) and to put processes in place to prevent them or something similar happening again. To do this, we need to find the cause (or root cause). Actions which focus on the cause are known as Preventive Actions and can stop a much wider number of problems than corrective actions.

Where do I add the cause in Proactively?

  1. In the Reports tab, select the right report and click to open
  2. In the overview menu, there is a box to record the cause.
Incident cause

How to find the cause: 5 whys

The simple way to find the root cause is to ask why the situation has occurred. You ask this 5 times till you get to the root cause(s) of the problem.

The steps of asking again and again lets you dig down beneath the most obvious cause of the problem. The aim is to move away from blaming an individual and think beyond the specific context of a problem. We aim to get to the underlying cause. This enables us to find a sustainable solution that resolves the issue.

Often when you ask why something happens, there can be several possible causes. Hence, often 5 whys looks more like a tree than a simple cause and effect line.

5 Whys in Incident Investigation

Incidents don’t just happen. They are usually the result of a chain of events. We can ask Why to go back to find the root cause.

  • What happened? Tom broke his leg
  • Why? He fell from the ladder
  • Why? The ladder rung was damaged
  • Why? The maintenance checks had not been done
  • Why? Staff change – the new person was not aware of ladder maintenance checks:


  • Corrective Action – remove the damaged ladder from use
  • Preventive Actions – Induction training for new starters to cover equipment inspections.
Incident causation

When can you use 5 whys?

5 Whys is a problem solving technique used to find the cause of many different problems, including:

  • Incident investigation
  • Defect cause in quality systems
  • Hazard investigation in H&S or Environmental systems
  • Lean and Six Sigma systems to improve productivity

Do you have to ask 5 times?

The number of times you ask why is not important. Please, don’t stop too early.

Updated on October 12, 2021

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