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Revisiting high-reliability organizing: obstacles to safety and resilience

Jessica L. Ford (Department of Communication, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 3 April 2018



The purpose of this paper is to complicate and critique contemporary scholarship on high-reliability organizations (HROs). This paper argues that although HRO scholarship helps to identify communicative patterns that facilitate reliability and safety, it also simplifies processes that undermine the effectiveness of existing recommendations for HROs.


This paper frames high-reliability organizing as the enactment of mindfulness, which is the theoretical mechanism behind each of the five principles of high-reliability organizing. Using this framework, this paper then elaborates on each of the HRO principles: preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify interpretations, sensitivity to operations, commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise.


This paper details how research guided by HRO theory must address the following obstacles to safety and resilience: information accessibility limiting preoccupation with failure, identity constructions encouraging the simplification of interpretations, message fatigue repressing sensitivity to operations, the information environment within HROs weakening commitment to resilience, and generational differences impeding deference to expertise.


This paper highlights key issues obstructing safety and reliability in organizations that have been largely ignored by extant literature and encourages scholars to do more to acknowledge the role communication plays in constituting and reconstituting organizational reliability. Failing to fully address complex communicative interactions in HROs obstructs efforts to safeguard employee health and safety.



The research that influenced this critical essay began during the author’s doctoral studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


Ford, J.L. (2018), "Revisiting high-reliability organizing: obstacles to safety and resilience", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 197-211.



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