Document Type



Published in 21st Century Management: A Reference Handbook by Sage Publications, Ed. C. Wankel, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008.


Sage Publications

Publication Source

21st Century Management: A Reference Handbook


Excerpt from the introduction:

"The purpose of this chapter is to examine the major streams of research about catastrophic failures, describing what we have learned about why these failures occur as well as how they can be prevented. The chapter begins by describing the most prominent sociological school of thought with regard to catastrophic failures, namely normal accident theory. That body of thought examines the structure of organizational systems that are most susceptible to catastrophic failures. Then, we turn to several behavioral perspectives on catastrophic failures, assessing a stream of research that has attempted to understand the cognitive, group and organizational processes that develop and unfold over time, leading ultimately to a catastrophic failure. For an understanding of how to prevent such failures, we then assess the literature on high reliability organizations (HRO). These scholars have examined why some complex organizations operating in extremely hazardous conditions manage to remain nearly error free. The chapter closes by assessing how scholars are trying to extend the HRO literature to develop more extensive prescriptions for managers trying to avoid catastrophic failures."