High Reliability Organisation definition

High reliability organisations are those that manage to avoid accidents in environments/industries where accidents are expected or likely, due to inherent risk. Examples of industries where HROs could be expected include air traffic control, nuclear power stations, mega structure construction projects and crisis response teams.

Karel E Weick and Kathleen M Sutcliffe (2001) identified four factors responsible for the ongoing external awareness and self-awareness that allows HROs to mitigate risk. These are: preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify interpretations, sensitivity to operations, commitment to resilience and deference to expertise.

An ability to reinvent themselves and respond to situations that evolve quickly are also hallmarks of successful HROs, as well as learning from accidents in a way that improves future performance and processes and prevents the same type of accident from happening again.

HRO theory contrasts with some thinking, particularly sociologist Charles Perrow’s Normal Accident Theory (NAT), which proposes that accidents in high-risk industries and situations are normal and in some cases inevitable due to the complexity of the systems and the inability of the management/experts to control every aspect of the operation.