Welcome to our new blog on high reliability. In the mid 1990’s the U.S. Department of Energy began a journey toward high reliability for managing our safety critical science and technology missions. Over some 15 years our internal deliberations have benefited from external perspectives, gradually engaging other federal agencies, private industry and the academic community in our conversations. This new blog is a next step toward broader discussion within our DOE community and with others who are likewise involved in seeking to assure high levels of performance and safety for their safety critical organizations. We welcome your questions, contributions, and comments.
So why are we using the term “High Reliability”? Because it provides us with a scientific framework for reflecting on how we are managing our safety critical missions, and how we can enhance performance and safety. DOE is science and technology centric so a management framework grounded in sociotechnical science is seen by many as necessary to advance beyond expert based, individualistic driven management approaches.
Research on High Reliability Organizations (HRO) began in the late 1980’s with researchers at the University of California Berkeley and subsequently the University of Michigan. The early research with aviation, nuclear power and navy aircraft carriers resonates with many senior managers who have engineering and military backgrounds. The commercial nuclear power industry has 30 years of operating data that persuasively demonstrates the tangible safety and performance benefits of high reliability practices; and this quantitative performance data resonates with results focused managers. More recently HRO has been adopted as a framework for improvements in medical safety and quality, and research has expanded into a broad range of other domains such a fire fighting, electrical distribution systems and even the intelligence community.
The DOE missions are diverse:
- to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States;
- to promote scientific and technological innovation;
- and to ensure the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex.
For a management framework to have credence in DOE, it must be both robust and flexible. It must be respectful of differing work domains and differing cultural perspectives. And it must be seen as supportive of mission accomplishment and safety as synergistic goals. HRO theory meets these requirements for many in DOE.
Our use of HRO is intentionally descriptive. We will strive to speak about “HRO’s do”, rather than normatively as “HRO’s should”. Our concept of high reliability is intentionally a “big tent” concept capable of adaptive interpretation of many safety, quality and performance improvement paradigms. We seek a holistic systems view rather than a mechanistic parochial view. Our blog is intended to inform, to advocate points of view and to engage the thinking of others. Our purpose is to support reflective learning thus increasing our collective mindfulness and our abilities to make sense in an often chaotic world. We welcome you to our conversation.