Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Introduction to Higher Reliability Organizations

Article from Fire Engineering website by Dane Carley and Craig Nelson published 11 March 2011.

The number of fatalities experienced by US fire service has not changed much in the last 20 years. "We have good, inspiring leaders who recognize the problem and provide solutions. We have good firefighters and company officers who know their jobs inside and out. They follow the rules, use solid safety practices, and train more often than ever before. Leaders, firefighters, and company officers alike are well trained, well educated, and experienced. Therefore, we believe the problem lies within the number of rules, current safety practices, and our approach to safety."

"Other industries operating in a similar environment where there are severe consequences for a single mistake do not see similar accident statistics."

The article discusses the application of the principles of Higher Reliability Organisations (HRO).

The definition of a HRO is "an organization operating in a complex, high-risk environment in which a single error has the potential for disastrous consequences, yet the organization routinely performs with a low number of errors due to various organizational characteristics intentionally engineered to prevent human error."

"An HRO accomplishes this by consciously implementing a comprehensive plan that hinges on developing a learning culture within an organization using methods such as near-miss reporting and root-cause analysis."

"An HRO recognizes that organizations are comprised of humans who, no matter how diligent they are, make mistakes. In organizations like the fire service, we must first accept that we all make mistakes, no matter how smart, educated, or talented we are. An HRO builds systems on five basic principles to prevent a mistake, compensate when a mistake does occur, and then learn from the mistake to prevent it from occurring again. Weick and Sutcliffe (2007) list the principles of an HRO as:

Preoccupation with failure
Reluctance to simplify
Sensitivity to operations
Commitment to resilience
Deference to expertise"

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