Major or minor: what are the differences between non-conformances?


During the course of normal business activity, it’s not unusual for the odd non-conformance to crop up. Non-conformances, which are essentially areas for improvement, are related to the processes and procedures you have put in place to fine tune your business, and they can happen anywhere within it. However, there are crucial differences between minor and major non-conformances and being aware of them can be the key to continual improvement and ongoing certification. Let’s start with the minor ones.

What is a minor non-conformance?

All non-conformances are very specific to your own business as well as to the Standard that they relate to. However, a minor non-conformance will always be a weakness in your business’ processes or procedures that could lead to a major non-conformance if it is not solved quickly. This could be a missed training record or a single invoice mistake.

As ‘one-offs’, they will not cause a breakdown in your business’ operations. But if they begin to appear in number and are not dealt with, they could result in a major non-conformance and the disintegration of your business procedures. If a minor non-conformance occurs, it should be considered for potential improvement.

It should also be used as a springboard for further investigation into your business systems to discover any other weaknesses, which could then be included in your plans for correction. A minor non-conformance will not necessarily affect your certification. If it is flagged up in an audit, you will have an agreed amount of time to sort it out, which will be checked by your auditor at the next visit.

What is a major non-conformance?

A major non-conformance is something that could cause a significant failure of your businesses’ intended operations and objectives.

It could be a failure to implement a key requirement of your Standard, the absence of it altogether, or a failure to maintain conformance. Major non-conformances that could crop up include a failure to carry out a task or process (such as irregular backing up of data) and multiple or significant errors (such as repeated invoice mistakes).

Major non-conformances are more serious by their nature as they may have a direct impact on your business. For instance, you could see a drop in customer satisfaction or a fall in your reputation. If the affected system relates to health and safety, it could be putting your staff at risk.

If a major issue is flagged up, this will also affect your certification as your procedures will not be meeting those set out by your Standard. This can lose you both time and money as you will need to make improvements and then potentially have another audit.

Major non-conformances to watch out for:

Every business needs a little helping hand now and again, so we spoke to our expert consultants to find out what the five most common major non-conformances are.

1. Issues with documentation

All Standards require that the records created by the implementation of business processes and procedures need to be kept – without it, you will be failing a key requirement.

2. Lack of management reviews

Management reviews show you whether your processes are still fit for purpose, so it’s essential that they are carried out. It is also crucial that they are run with an agenda and that minutes are taken, which can then be circulated. In your external audit, you will need to produce these minutes as part of your evidence.

3. Lack of internal audits

To keep your business processes shipshape you will need to keep a close eye on them. One way of doing this is to hold internal audits, which verify that processes and procedures are being effectively implemented in key areas of your business.

4. Training

Trained staff are key to a well-run business, which is why the ISO Standards place great emphasis on it. Training should be relevant to an individual’s job and could include documentation such as an induction handbook or staff handbook. All training should be recorded in a log, which can then be used as evidence during your audit with one of our consultants.

5. Process for customer feedback

Many Standards want businesses to be hands-on with their customer feedback as it can be a great indicator of areas for improvement. By creating a process for customer feedback, you can check that their needs are being met, which will have the advantage of increasing the likelihood of repeat business.

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About the author

  • Name:

    Claire Price

  • Company:

    Content Marketing Executive

  • Bio:

    Claire has worked for QMS since 2020 writing creative and informative content on ISO certification and consultation to help businesses reach their potential.


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