The application of high reliability organisation theory in relation to high reliable organisational practice: An air traffic case

Biedermann, Markus (2021) The application of high reliability organisation theory in relation to high reliable organisational practice: An air traffic case. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire. doi:10.46289/7S6LP22Z

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The High Reliability Organisations Theory (HROT) identifies five key principles for any high reliability organisation, pointing to air traffic control (ATC) and nuclear power plants as cogent examples. Nevertheless, relatively little is known about the current operational point of HROs. The literature surrounding this subject frequently highlights governance and economic regulation as significant factors in dictating HRO principles. These factors are influenced by both the economic pressures that result from shifts in operating points, as well as the intensely regulated world of global aviation. However, research into this topic has thus far failed to satisfactorily address the extent to which HROs are successful in operating in accordance with HROT principles. This gap in understanding leaves this study to pose the question: “To what extent do highly reliable organisations apply HROT principles in daily organisational practice across the two essential business functions Operations and Operational Support against the influence of external influencing factors, especially regulation?”. The present dissertation used three different data collection methods: document searches; online surveys; and expert interviews. The purpose of these methods was threefold. First, to explore the extent to which the case organisation, Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (DFS), complies with high reliability principles. Second, to determine the degree of integration of the five dimensions of high reliability in the different business areas of the case company. Third, to explore factors that account for a difference between theory and practice. As a result, it can be stated the organisation complies to a very high degree with the principles of HROT across all business functions. There is a difference between operational and non-operational areas in the perception of the principles as well as in the application and level of integration. Whilst both areas provide deep understanding of HROT and show the dimensions in their day to day work, where the ideas originate from is less known throughout the organization, which leads to the conclusion of it being more in the DNA of the organisation rather than taught knowledge. Whilst the knowledge and integration of the principles is high, many employees state that cost-pressure and regulatory burden apply. The organization acknowledges the influence factors, but also provide evidence that it can`t disrupt an HRO’s reliability as its basic principle. The dimensions of HROT form a specific mindset that forms a culture within the organization lived and nurtured by the employees regardless of their area of business. This also results in the biggest difference between theory and practice. Although the awareness of HROT can only be explained and expressed by part of the organisations` members, the organizational practice, reflected also in its culture, shows a living HROT. This demonstrates the potential difference between theory and action, with a theoretical understanding of organizational concept unnecessary from a performance perspective. The present thesis could extend the theory by means of survey and expert interview results, since it could show that HROs such as ATC operates according to HRO principles independent from the area of business. The results from the expert interviews show that, in most peoples’ opinions, it is the employees’ attitude towards safety and resilience that makes ATC so safe.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: High reliability organisation theory (HROC); Air traffic control; Germany
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management > HD61 Risk in industry. Risk management
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Business, Computing and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2022 14:01
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2022 14:08

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