In their paper 'Managing risk in hazardous conditions: improvisation is not enough', Almaberti and Vincent ask "what strategies we might adopt to protect patients when healthcare systems and organisations are under stress and simply cannot provide the standard of care they aspire to". This is clearly a critical and much overdue question, as many healthcare organisations are in an almost constant state of stress from high workload, personnel shortages, high-complexity patients, new technologies, fragmented and conflicting payment systems, over-regulation, and many other issues. These stressors put mid-level managers and front-line staff in situations where they may compromise their standards and be unable to provide the highest quality care. Such circumstances can contribute to low morale and burn-out. Eric Thomas discusses this further in his Editorial published in BMJ Safety & Quality.