What are High Reliability Organizations?

Organizations that are required to:

“…operate in an unforgiving environment, rich with the potential for error, where the scale of consequences precludes learning through experimentation and where complex processes are used to manage complex technology in order to avoid failures.”

-Weick & Sutcliffe: Managing the Unexpected

Human Factors

Human factors is the term used to describe the interaction of individuals with each other, with facilities and equipment, and with management systems. This interaction is influenced by both the working environment and the culture of the people involved. What may be a good system of work in one part of an organization, may be found to be less than ideal in a region where culturally driven attitudes to risk taking may be significantly different.  Human factors analysis focuses on how these interactions contribute towards the creation of a safe workplace.

Crew Resource Management and the Aviation Safety Model

The “inspiration” for Crew Resource Management had its roots in the commercial aviation industry.  A series of tragic airline crashes in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80’s led investigators and regulators to discover that many of these crashes were completely avoidable.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that:

“The majority of the accidents where flight crew actions/inactions were prime causative factors… could be attributed to inadequacies in leadership qualities, communication skills, crew coordination and decision-making … as opposed to technical proficiency failures”

This led to the recommendation that flight crews receive training in “Cockpit Resource Management” (CRM) to address these inadequacies.  CRM was later redefined as “Crew Resource Management” to include cabin crews and flight dispatchers.  The NTSB recommendations were adapted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and now all commercial airline operators are required to receive CRM training

CRM has had a huge impact on the reduction in accident rates in the commercial airline industry and is now required for charter operators (FAA Part 135) as well.   The International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) has made CRM training a requirement for membership and CRM training is now required for just about any crew working for hire throughout the world.

The benefits of CRM and the Aviation Safety Model, as it has come to be known have been recognized by virtually every high-risk industry.  The human factors concepts that transform a high risk industry to a high reliability organization transcend any specific industry or discipline.  They are not specific to aviation or any other discipline and are truly universal in form and function.