Non-compliance: definition, challenges, handling


As a director, quality manager or HSE manager, you have to manage non-compliance on a daily basis. You are on the lookout for an efficient method or tools to anticipate, manage and optimise their handling and ensure the satisfaction of your customers in a highly-competitive market. Don’t let quality issues hinder your success.

Make continuous improvement an absolute priority for your management system and discover how efficient handling of non-compliance can enable you to maximise your operational efficiency and exceed your customers’ expectations.

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What is non-compliance?

Non-compliance is deviation from established standards, specifications and requirements. It can occur in different sectors, such as quality, security, the environment, regulations or any other set of defined criteria for an organisation or specific process. Non-compliance may be detected at different stages, from the manufacturing of goods to the provision of services and even administrative processes.

Non-compliance can have negative consequences on the performance and reputation of an organisation. It can result in delays, additional costs, customer dissatisfaction, and even complaints and legal disputes. Managing non-compliance is essential to ensure quality, compliance and customer satisfaction.

Why manage non-compliance?

Effective non-compliance management is of paramount importance for organisations, regardless of their business sector. It plays a key role in maintaining quality, compliance and the reputation of your company. Here are a few reasons why managing non-compliance is essential:

  • Quality improvement: Non-compliance is a warning sign indicating potential problems in your processes or products. By identifying and handling it quickly, organisations can improve their overall quality. By taking suitable corrective action, they can eliminate the underlying causes of non-compliance, reduce errors and defects, as well as guarantee that their products and services comply with customer expectations.
  • Customer satisfaction: Non-compliance can lead to customer dissatisfaction, and even complaints or product returns. Proactive management can prevent these problems and maintain customer satisfaction. By responding adequately to incidents flagged by customers, organisations can increase customer confidence and loyalty.
  • Reduction in costs: Non-compliance can generate additional costs for companies. For example, production delays, product recalls, repairs or replacements can lead to significant additional costs. By handling these problems effectively, organisations can minimise these costs due to errors, defects and complaints.
  • Compliance with regulations and standards: Many industries are subject to strict safety, quality and environmental regulations. Non-compliance management ensures that organisations comply with these legal requirements. Furthermore, certain quality management standards, such as the ISO 9001 standard explicitly require the implementation of procedures to manage non-compliance.
  • Risk prevention: Non-compliance may pose potential risks for the health and safety of individuals, the environment or the reputation of a company. Proper management makes it possible to prevent these risks by identifying the underlying causes, taking corrective action and strengthening preventive controls.
  • Continuous improvement: Non-compliance management is part of a continuous improvement approach. By analysing repeated non-compliance, organisations can identify trends and systematic weaknesses, and take measures to prevent their reoccurrence. This contributes to the constant development and optimisation of processes and organisational performance.

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Definition and examples

Explanation of the concept

Non-compliance is a deviation from established standards, specifications or requirements. It happens when something does not comply with the defined criteria. It may concern products, processes, services or systems that do not comply with established standards or specific expectations.

A few common examples in different sectors


  • Products with manufacturing defects, such as missing parts, incorrect dimensions or finishing problems.
  • Manufacturing processes that do not respect established steps or standards, leading to manufacturing errors.
  • Non-compliance with safety and quality standards when storing, handling or transporting products.


  • Non-compliance with safety protocols on construction sites, leading to accidents or injuries.
  • Faulty or poorly maintained safety equipment, increasing the risks to workers.
  • Inadequate safety procedures, such as the absence of emergency evacuation plans.


  • Non-compliance with environmental regulations, such as the release of harmful substances into water or the air.
  • Absence of waste management measures in line with environmental standards.
  • Agricultural or industrial practices that harm biodiversity or local ecosystems.

Regulatory compliance:

  • Non-compliance with legal requirements on workplace health and safety.
  • Non-compliance with financial and accounting regulations.
  • Non-compliance with confidentiality and data protection standards.

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What are the issues?

Consequences of non-compliance for organisations

It can have a significant impact on organisations, resulting in negative consequences in several areas. Here are a few of the most common consequences:

  1. Disruption to operations: Non-compliance can lead to disruptions to operational processes. This can result in production delays, line stoppages, logistical problems and overall business inefficiency.
  2. Additional costs: non-compliance can generate additional costs, such a product recalls, repairs, replacements or financial penalties. These unexpected costs can have a significant impact on the company’s profitability.

Impact on customer satisfaction and company reputation

Non-compliance management is closely linked to customer satisfaction and company reputation. Here are some of the most significant impacts:

  1. Customer dissatisfaction: Non-compliance can lead to customer dissatisfaction, as it can result in non-compliant products or defective services, late delivery or a poor customer experience. This can result in lost customers, lower sales and a breakdown in customer relations.
  2. Company reputation: Repeated or poorly managed non-compliance can damage a company’s reputation. Customers and business partners may lose confidence in the organisation, leading to a reduction in credibility and business opportunities.

Associated legal and financial risks

Non-compliance can also result in significant legal and financial risks for organisations. Here are some of the most common risks:

  1. Disputes and complaints: Non-compliance can lead to legal disputes and complaints from customers or affected stakeholders. This can generate significant costs in terms of legal expenses, damages and compensation..
  2. Regulatory non-compliance: Non-compliance can lead to sanctions, fines or regulatory action by the relevant authorities. Organisations can be held liable for non-compliance with the regulations in force, which can have a significant financial impact.

How can you handle non-compliance?

Key steps to effectively handle non-compliance

Handling non-compliance involves several essential steps to ensure effective management. Here are the key steps to follow:

  1. Identification: It is important to quickly and precisely identify the non-compliance. This can be done through inspections, audits, quality controls or through internal or external reports.
  2. Documentation: It is essential to document the non-compliance in a clear and detailed manner. This includes describing the problem, the parties involved, the potential impact, the relevant data and the evidence gathered.
  3. Assessment of the scale and impact: You need to assess the scale of the non-compliance, whether major or minor, and its impact on products, processes or services. This makes it possible to determine the actions to be taken as a priority and the appropriate measures.
  4. Analysis of the underlying causes: Once the non-compliance has been identified, it is important to conduct an in-depth analysis of the underlying causes. This means identifying the contributing factors, the process errors, the weaknesses in procedures, human error or technical defects.
  5. Implementation of corrective action: Based on the analysis of the underlying causes, appropriate corrective action must be defined and implemented to eliminate the causes of the problem. This may include corrective action such as the repair or replacement of defective products, or preventive action such as changes to procedures, staff training or the improvement of control systems.
  6. Monitoring and verification: It is important to monitor and verify the effectiveness of the corrective action implemented. This makes it possible to ensure that the non-compliance has been resolved in a satisfactory manner and that it won’t happen again.

Important of identification and documenting non-compliance

The proper identification and documentation of non-compliance is of the utmost importance. Here’s why:

  1. Traceability: The precise documentation of non-compliance provides comprehensive traceability of the problem, from the moment it arises until it is resolved. This facilitates subsequent analysis, risk assessment and continuous improvement of processes.
  2. Internal communication: Clear documentation of non-compliance facilitates communication within an organisation. The documented information can be shared with the parties involved, which fosters joint understanding of the problem and the action to be taken.
  3. Evidence for external stakeholders: Documentation may be required by customers, regulatory bodies or external stakeholders. This evidence demonstrates that the appropriate measures have been taken to resolve the problems and ensure compliance.

It therefore quickly becomes necessary to set up an appropriate software solution for handling non-compliance, as the use of spreadsheets such as Excel quickly reaches its limits for efficient handling of non-compliance.

Analysis of underlying causes and implementation of corrective measures

Analysing the underlying causes is a crucial step in handling non-compliance. It makes it possible to understand the factors that led to the non-compliance and to implement the appropriate corrective action. Here are a few approaches commonly used:

  1. The 5 Whys: This method involves asking the question “Why?” several times to identify the underlying cause of the non-compliance. By asking this question repeatedly, we can get to the root causes of the problem.
  2. Analysis of discrepancies: This approach involves comparing actual practices with expected practices or established standards. It enables discrepancies to be identified and the underlying causes of non-compliance to be determined.
  3. Analysis tools: Various analysis tools such as Pareto diagrams, cause and effect diagrams (Ishikawa), flow diagrams and process analyses can be used to help identify and analyse the underlying causes.

Once the causes have been identified, corrective action must be taken. This action may include measures such as revising procedures, staff training, improving processes or implementing additional controls.

What can be done to prevent non-compliance?

Prevention strategies

Preventing non-compliance is a pro-active approach that aims to prevent it from happening. Here are a few efficient strategies to prevent non-compliance:

  1. Establishing clear standards and procedures: It is essential you establish clear standards and procedures for each process, product or service. These standards must be well defined, documented and communicated to all staff.
  2. Regular quality control: Implementing regular quality control makes it possible to detect potential problems before they turn into instances of non-compliance. These controls can include inspections, tests and internal audits.
  3. Continuous reviews and improvement: Organisations need to set up continuous review and improvement mechanisms to identify opportunities for improvement and prevent non-compliance. This can be achieved through team meetings, periodic evaluations and feedback from stakeholders.

Training and informing employees about non-compliance

Training and informing employees are key elements to prevent non-compliance. Here’s why:

  1. Training on standards and procedures: Employees must be trained on the standards, procedures and specific requirements of their line of work. This will enable them to understand the requirements in terms of compliance and to apply them properly.
  2. Providing information about the importance of compliance: Employees must be made aware of the importance of compliance and the consequences of non-compliance. This can be achieved through training, information sessions, internal communication and regular reminders.

Setting up robust quality management systems

Setting up robust quality management systems helps to prevent non-compliance. Here are a few key components of an effective quality management system:

  1. Definition of quality policies and targets: Organisations must define clear quality policies and targets that are in line with customer expectations and regulatory requirements.
  2. Process planning: Rigorous process planning is essential to ensure that activities are carried out in a coherent manner, in accordance with established standards.
  3. Control and monitoring: Control and monitoring mechanisms must be set up to verify the compliance of products, processes and services. This may include inspections, internal audits and regular performance evaluations.

Use of risk management tools and techniques

The use of risk management tools and techniques may help prevent non-compliance. Here are a few examples:

  • Failure mode effects and criticality analysis (FMECA): FMECA is a method for identifying and prioritising potential failure modes, their effects and their criticality. This helps to take preventive action to reduce the risks of non-compliance.
  • Risk mapping: Risk mapping identifies and assesses the risks associated with each process, activity or product. This helps to target the preventive action needed to reduce the risks of non-compliance.

What is the impact of the ISO 9001 standard?

Presentation of the ISO 9001 and its aim

The ISO 9001 standard is a quality management system widely recognised throughout the world. It establishes the criteria for setting up an effective quality management system within an organisation, regardless of its business sector. The main aim of the ISO 9001 standard is to help organisations provide high-quality products and services, with an emphasis on customer satisfaction and continuous improvement.

Link between the ISO 9001 standard and non-compliance management

ISO 9001 places a strong emphasis on the non-compliance management. It encourages organisations to systematically identify, document, handle and prevent non-compliance. Non-compliance management is considered an integral part of the quality management system based on ISO 9001.

Specific requirements of the ISO 9001 standard in terms of non-compliance

ISO 9001 sets out specific requirements for managing non-compliance. Here are some of the key requirements:

  1. Identification and documentation of non-compliance: The standard requires that organisations draw up procedures to identify, document and manage non-compliance. This includes the collection of relevant information about non-compliance, and the recording and classification of the non-compliance.
  2. Handling of non-compliance: ISO 9001 requires that organisations implement measures to handle non-compliance in an appropriate manner. This includes analysing the causes, evaluating the impact and taking corrective and preventive action, as well as monitoring the effectiveness of the actions taken.
  3. Prevention of non-compliance: The standard also encourages organisations to implement preventive actions to prevent the reoccurrence of non-compliance. This may include actions such as improving processes, staff training, monitoring and analysis non-compliance trends.

By complying with the requirements of the ISO 9001 standard in terms of non-compliance management, organisations can improve their operational efficiency, improve their customer satisfaction and strengthen their overall quality management system.


Managing non-compliance is a key element to ensure quality, competitiveness and customer satisfaction in a competitive environment. For more information on the best practices and essential tools to optimise this vital process, please contact our experts.

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