The Consequences of Not Raising Non-Conformances

Posted by Kirsten Ross

Recognising and raising non-conformances is essential to the health and safety system of every workplace. This ensures that problems with processes and procedures are identified, which means corrective actions can be put into place. 

If your organisation does not raise non-conformances, this could be fatal to the safety of your workers and the overall compliance of your workplace. 

In the video below, we have explored the idea of why some people may not raise internal non-conformances and the effects that this will have on your organisation. 

The guest for the episode is Andrew Thornhill from IRM Systems in Melbourne. 

Andrew is an auditor, an HSEQ Consultant and a qualified trainer of Auditors. He is also an approved Mango partner. 

Enjoy! 

Compliance Conversations is a new series coming to your screens. This is where we chat with some industry experts about the pitfalls and advantages  of compliance, and provide you with insights into your compliance industry. Keep an eye out for a new episode every week!

 

Why do some employees not raise internal non-conformances? 

It seems that there's a mixture of employees being too frightened to raise non-conformances due to management not liking them, combined with the perception that doing this will bring an increase in the amount of work needed to fix it. 

If it’s a major one you might do an investigation. If it's a minor one, you might just monitor. If it's a really low level issue, you probably don't even record it.

But we know that this isn't an effective way of doing it. Something always goes wrong. 

It's impossible to have zero non-conformances in a business or a manufacturing environment. So why do people continue to not report them?


Let's take a look at what the experts had to say when discussing this topic: 

Peter:

"Andrew, when you audit companies and look at their non-conformance processes, corrective actions, or improvements and you get to the register with nothing on it - are you impressed or do you start to think that there is something wrong?" 

Andrew: 

"To be honest, as someone who does external audits, if you're being presented with an overly rosy picture, it's a bit of a red flag to what's actually happening. Why aren't things being recorded?

There are questioning techniques you can use to dig below the surface. An obvious one would be to talk to some of the operational staff and ask them if they know what is classified as an improvement?

Finding out if they know how to report that within a business would be a starting point as an external auditor." 

Craig: 

"It frustrated me greatly when I turn up and I'd say 'show us your customer complaints for the year' and they’d show me nothing. It's like oh, this company's certifications are at risk here because I could wander around and see internal issues that strike you in the face. 

Particularly when it's a quality audit, because the whole focus is on being a customer focused organisation."

 

Problems that KPI's have on Business Culture

It was touched on earlier, but one of the main reasons for employees not raising internal non-conformances is that KPI's are often used as a measure of employee performance. 

If there's a culture within your organisation of 'blame and shame' at an operational level, then of course employees will be hesitant to raise things. 

It really comes back to looking at your own organisational culture. How do you treat people if they honestly raise something?

It's extremely unlikely that the non-conformance raised will be indicative of the employees performance. Every organisation gets some customer feedback and complaints. 

 

Problem with Categorizing Non-Conformances

If a non-conformance falls into the category of customer complaint, the workers and managers may perceive that to create a whole lot more work for everyone, resulting in no non-conformance being raised. 

You will end up in a situation where the production team are kind of managing it, but not reporting it into a formal system - which can have huge cost implications for the company. 

A great example of the issues of doing this can be seen in the example below from when Peter used to be a quality manager...

Peter: 

"When I was a quality manager for a specific business, we kept on getting these 'customer complaints' - oftentimes this was when a product was incorrectly sent out, the customer would send it back then we sent the right one. So it was a charge - recharge situation.

And it might only be like $5 or $6 so the company said to categorise it as nothing. But i realised that we were doing something wrong - it was our error that the wrong product was being sent. 

We don't need to go into full investigation, but why don't we capture those as data points. Suddenly all of the little $5 things started to add up - there was like 600 of them.

From that, we were able to recognise that there was something wrong with our processes, and that it was in fact costing us. Yes human nature is a factor in people making mistakes, but there was just so many. 

That then enabled us to say, right at least get a quality team together. And in those days, the quality department was me, so I was the team.

I looked at them, and then started to actually filter the data down, and something came up. It was a particular person in customer service that had been keying in the part numbers wrong. 

So, we observed this person doing data entry and realised that she was coding things the wrong way. We asked her to read back the number and she was reading back right, what was supposed to be done, but coding it in wrong. It turns out that she needed glasses.

As soon as we said, 'Hey, wait a minute, you've said this, you've read from here, but you're typing in that there' and she goes 'I didn't realize'.

Sent her off got new glasses and problem gone. But the other side that people don't realize is that, because she was doing these credit recharges for $5, the customer wasn't paying the main invoice because they are waiting for the credit of $5 and the order might have been $20.

So, another part of the business was being disadvantaged as in, they were trying to collect money, and customers said, we're not paying you until you get these credit recharges done. So as soon as we fixed up that, that cash flow improved, and everyone was happy".

 

At the end of the day, if employees don't feel concerned about reporting things, that's a learning opportunity missed and there is a risk that similar things will just continue occurring. 

 

Recording Non-Conformances

One of the easiest ways to record these things is every credit has to have a non-conformance associated to it, whether it's a wrong invoice or there's a delivery problem.

Quality: 

For Quality, assigning a credit to the error is an easy way to capture non-conformances.  So that's a rule you should put in right away.  If you've got a quality system, any credit that gets processed must have a non-conformance attached to it so that you can capture these data points and actually make meaningful improvements.

Environmental: 

With environmental issues, people may think 'we had this little spill, we quickly cleaned it up, let's not record that'. But the problem with not assigning a cost to the spill is that it will continue happening and people will continue thinking that it is not an issue. 

Health & Safety:

It's the same with near misses. If you've got a culture where people don't report things - there will be a near miss and they will say 'I don't need to report that'. That is where the culture starts to build up around a belief of only reporting things when they actually happen. 

 

Takeaways

  1. Examine your organisations blame and shame culture and act accordingly 
  2. Be wary of categorizing non-conformances 
  3. Educate staff at all levels on the importance and benefits of reporting non-conformances 

 

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Tags: Compliance, non-conformances, Compliance Conversations