March 14, 2023 | Mark Paradies

What Was the First High-Reliability Organization?


The First High-Reliability Organization: The Nuclear Navy

On February 20, 1949, Admiral Rickover reported for duty as the head of the Division of Reactors Development at the Atomic Energy Commission and to the Chief of the Bureau of Ships for “additional duty.” This was the start of the Nuclear Navy – the first high-reliability organization.

In less than six years, the organization went from an idea (nuclear power on a submarine) to “Underway on Nuclear Power” as the USS Nautilus cast off her lines and steamed out of port (January 17, 1955). That alone is an engineering miracle. But Admiral Rickover wasn’t done.

Why do I call The Nuclear Navy the first high-reliability organization? Consider the Nuclear Navy’s record. As Nuclear Newswire reported:

“The nuclear navy has logged over 5,400 reactor-­years of accident-­free
operations and traveled over 130 million miles on nuclear energy, enough
to circle the earth 3,500 times. From the time of the USS Nautilus in 1954,
to the present, no civilian or military personnel on these ships, more than
a hundred thousand people, have ever been harmed by radiation from
reactors or facilities with which they were so intimately in contact.”

This record is even more remarkable when you discover that Admiral Rickover retired in 1982 – 40 years ago – and the program has continued with the high standards he first set.

Compare the Nuclear Navy to Other Organizations

Do you know of any other industrial process or government operating organization with this kind of record?

Imagine all the refineries in the US operating for decades without a process safety accident causing a fatality. Or all the US aircraft carriers operating in peacetime without a lost pilot. Or all the oil wells drilled in the US without a blowout for over a decade. Or a decade of pipeline operations without a leak. Or all the hospitals in the USA going a year without any medical errors that caused a fatality for a patient.

It hasn’t happened and probably never will. Why? Because the other industries don’t live up to the standards Rickover set for the Nuclear Navy.

What Are Rickover’s Standards?

I’ve written several articles on the topic. One that I wrote for the CCPS compared Rickover’s standards to OSHA’s PSM and EPA’s RMP. It is available here:

Has process safety management missed the boat?

Or a series of articles you can read for free are linked here:

Stopping the Normalization of Deviation with the
Normalization of Excellence – How Admiral Rickover Did It

Can Your Organization Live Up to These Standards?

Is it possible for your organization to live up to these standards? That’s the focus of a session at the 2023 Global TapRooT® Summit. Mark Paradies will present:

Get more information about the session by clicking on the figure above.

This is your chance to ask questions of someone who has been there – done that. Find out how you can improve process safety or patient safety by adopting proven methods from the Nuclear Navy.

Register for the Summit NOW!

Summit Keynote Speakers
Summit Keynote Speakers

The 2023 Global TapRooT® Summit is being held at the Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe, near Houston, Texas, on April 24-28. For complete Summit information, CLICK HERE.

Mark’s talk about Admiral Rickover and High-Reliability Organizations is in these Tracks:

  • Creating a Superior Improvement Program Track
  • Improving Human Performace Track
  • Safety Improvement Track
  • CAPA and Continuous Improvement Track

For complete information about these Best Practice Tracks, see the links at:

Best Practice Tracks

And see the complete Summit schedule HERE.

Then register for the 2023 Global TapRooT® Summit by CLICKING HERE.

Don’t miss this opportunity to guide your company to high reliability.

Operational Excellence, Process Safety, Summit
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