Applying HRO and resilience engineering to construction: Barriers and opportunities

High reliability organising (HRO) and resilience engineering (RE) have emerged as key concepts in safety management which promise a move away from bureaucracy and a means to manage safety without sacrificing performance. However, attempts to apply these ideas outside the ultra-safe sectors within which they developed have so far been limited. This paper uses the construction industry as a test case to explore the applicability of HRO and RE in a less highly regulated context. Through this discussion the research gaps are highlighted which have prevented the expansion of these new approaches into new sectors. The project-based nature, transient workforce, widespread outsourcing of labour and financial pressure of the construction sector limit opportunities for investment in employees and learning from experience; hence, developing principles advocated by HRO and RE such as management commitment, sensitivity to the frontline, prioritisation of safety, empowerment of employees, and a just culture presents a significant challenge. In spite of these barriers, there are also opportunities to be considered for construction to incorporate aspects of HRO and RE at an employee-centred level rather than organisational: Aspects of mindfulness and imagination; RE’s progressive understanding of accidents; and its holistic approach to cultivating resilience. It is argued that these opportunities offer a useful perspective for reframing safety debates in construction. The paper concludes with a research agenda which puts forward the need to extend and adapt aspects of HRO and RE in order to tackle some of the key characteristics of construction, namely subcontractor networks and temporary projects.