highlight areas for potential improvements and the necessary requirements for obtaining HRO status (Lekka, 2011).
Enhanced sensitivity to operations refers to the organisations ability to attain the ‘bigger picture’ of ongoing frontline operations, whereby potential failings not only predicted but contained (Lekka, 2011). This definition, therefore, deepens the simplified process implied by the original term “situation awareness” by which HRO are not only aware of the unknown but also continually searching for explanations (Roth, 1997).
Preoccupation with failure depicts the chronic concern of HRO’s with latent errors that may lay invisible in system operations amplifying the possibility of unexpected failings (Weick, 1999). This constant apprehension enables a more accurate indication of the ‘true’ health and reliability of the system (Lekka, 2012). Thirdly, the deference to expertise suggests the loosening of a traditionally hierarchical decision structure whereby personnel with ‘higher expertise’ maintain constant control (Mellor, 2015).
Commitment to resilience regards the system’s acknowledgment of the unavoidability of errors and its ability to actively anticipate, manage and consequently learn to bounce back from those errors (Weick, 1999; Wilson, 2005). What makes HRO’s distinctive is their reluctance to simplify situations, continually recognising the complexities of the surrounding environment (Wilson, 2005). Not only does this reduce the likelihood of discarding crucial information but also the likelihood of an ‘eventual surprise’ (Hopkins, 2007). Wilson (2005) suggests that the commitment of organisations to the amalgamation of these core principles and characteristics has enabled them to reach a status of ‘high-reliability’ through creating a state of ‘collective mindfulness’. Organisations that are ‘mindful’ are sensitive to variations in margin conditions and so increase resilience through continuously renovating safety perceptions and expectations (Spath, 2012).
Nevertheless, Hopkins (2007) raises the issue regarding the rigidity of Weick and Sutcliff’s HRO definition whereby organisations must exhibit all five principles to qualify, when in reality conditions are not so easily defined, and organisations will display varying principles to differing degrees (Hopkins, 2007). In other words, HRO’s should be regarded as a framework, an “ideal type” form which organisations can aspire to achieve, therefore irradiating previous disputes over whether an organisation definitively classifies as highly reliable if displaying signs of progression towards and not the attainment of HRO principles.
With this in mind, there have been numerous attempts to successfully transfer the core HRO principles to non-military contexts and assess the applicability of these ‘reliability enhancing’ processes into meaningful practice (Lekka, 2012).