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Strengthening reliability in high hazard industries: reconciling tensions for impact

Evan H. Offstein (Department of Management, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, Maryland, USA)
Raymond Kniphuisen (Excelerated Leadership Partners, Midlothian, Virginia, USA)
D. Robin Bichy (Excelerated Leadership Partners, Ashburn, Virginia, USA)
J. Stephen Childers Jr (Department of Management, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, USA)

American Journal of Business

ISSN: 1935-5181

Article publication date: 27 May 2014



Recent lapses in the management of high hazard organizations, such as the Fukushima event or the Deepwater Horizon blast, add considerable urgency to better understand the complicated and complex phenomena of leading and managing high reliability organizations (HRO). The purpose of this paper is to offer both theoretical and practical insight to further strengthen reliability in high hazard organizations.


Phenomenological study based on over three years of research and thousands of hours of study in HROs conducted through a scholar-practitioner partnership.


The findings indicate that the identification and the management of competing tensions arising from misalignment within and between public policy, organizational strategy, communication, decision-making, organizational learning, and leadership is the critical factor in explaining improved reliability and safety of HROs.

Research limitations/implications

Stops short of full-blown grounded theory. Steps were made to ensure validity; however, generalizability may be limited due to sample.

Practical implications

Provides insight into reliably operating organizations that are crucial to society where errors would cause significant damage or loss.


Extends high reliability research by investigating more fully the competing tensions present in these complex, societally crucial organizations.



H. Offstein, E., Kniphuisen, R., Robin Bichy, D. and Stephen Childers Jr, J. (2014), "Strengthening reliability in high hazard industries: reconciling tensions for impact", American Journal of Business, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 125-145.



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