We are happy to announce the recent release of our book No Time for Playing Cards: Higher Reliability Organizing for the Fire Service. Check it out at Fire Engineering Books and Videos

We have taken the higher reliability concept and written about it in an easy to read format with examples of how to apply those concepts at your department. We used near miss reporting, stories, and other types of events to illustrate how constant learning, leadership, crew resource management, organizational behavior, and more fit into higher reliability organizing.

One reader told us, “The amount of great information is abundant and relevant.  I specifically liked the real-life examples, as well as the discussion questions.  It allowed me, as a reader, to step back and apply it to the department in which I am a part of. ”

Emergency response organizations in the United States are traditionally reactive when addressing internal safety and tend to address symptoms instead of root causes. We make new safety lists of do’s and don’ts or write new SOGs after an accident. These are engineered responses that typically do not, if ever, address human behavior. Yet, it is generally accepted that 80% of accidents occur because of human behavior. As an example, the American fire service consistently loses about 100 firefighters and sees 100,000 firefighter injuries per year. Year after year new concepts, safety lists, training programs, standards, and regulations emerge in an attempt to lower those numbers.

We feel, however, that the most effective way to lower public safety line of duty deaths and injuries is to address the root cause – responder behaviors. We are not suggesting that responders have bad behaviors. We are suggesting that the environment in which responders work causes responders to unconsciously behave a certain way.

Higher reliability organizing is a comprehensive system based on a fundamental desire to learn in the context of five principles in order to develop consistent behaviors. These principles, as written by Karl Weick, are:

  • A preoccupation with failure
  • A reluctance to simplify
  • A sensitivity to operations
  • A commitment to resilience
  • A deference to expertise

Systems incorporating these components have reduced accidents by up to 80% in other high risk industries. Many segments of public safety and emergency response already use or have been introduced to systems that inherently incorporate these principles but the systems are not used in a comprehensive plan as is the case in a higher reliability organization so public safety has not seen similar results.

Why do we believe this focus is different than previous initiatives? Because public safety agencies tend to engineer solutions to solve symptoms of problems rooted in behaviors. However, behaviors contribute to 80% of near misses and accidents; whereas, mechanical problems only contribute to 20% of the near misses and accidents. Let us show your public safety agency how to develop a higher reliability organization perspective using systems already used by your department or introduce systems new to your department. Learn more about our perspective from some of our published media.