Making a positive impact
21 August 2015
Posted by: Jonathan Lee
When asked at a cocktail party the obligatory small talk question, “What do you do for a living?” I usually get one of three reactions when I say that I’m an Air Investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB): 1) shock, horror and even disgust that anyone would want to do my job; 2) indifference, as they are not interested; or, 3) true fascination, followed by questions such as “Do you find it challenging and at times emotionally difficult?”
While answering that last question, I’m able to show how proud I am of what I do. Advancing transportation safety is the mandate of the TSB, and it’s a very important and fundamental part of what makes Canada’s transportation sector one of the safest in the world. But the job is challenging, especially because it’s not always fully or immediately rewarding. Complex investigations take a lot of time to complete and the changes to the transportation system that come about through our recommendations can take years to implement, sometimes long after an investigator retires.
A part of my job that I find extremely rewarding, where my actions can make an immediate difference in someone’s life, is when I work with the families, loved ones and survivors (FLS) of an air accident. The TSB recognizes that providing timely, accurate information to families can benefit the effectiveness and ultimate success of TSB safety investigations. The TSB does provide guidance to investigators to ensure that FLS expectations are met by proactively providing factual information. This usually instills confidence in, and garners the families’ support for, the TSB's investigation and associated safety action initiatives.
As a manager in the Western region, I’m responsible for some of the training for new investigators. The topic of how to work with loved ones comes up often. I always tell the new investigators that they have a choice: they can approach this part of the job with reservation or even fear; or they can approach it with the view that this is their chance to be supportive at a very profound time in someone’s life, and that they can make a positive impact that will be remembered for a very long time.
In the early stages of an investigation following a fatal accident, the investigator is often the only link available to help the families understand what happened. The job requires a great deal of tact and perception, as people react differently in these situations. Some want a lot of information and detail, while others only want minimal facts, and sometimes they just need to know that we’re doing something. This part of the process is tough, but the rewards are immeasurable.
It’s not often that someone truly gets to help another person when they are in need, and this job affords that opportunity – but it’s not easy. My heart still races and my gut wrenches every time I walk into someone’s home to discuss an accident in which their loved one did not survive. Every time I do, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I have an opportunity to help someone through a tragic situation, and use what we learn to improve transportation safety so that a similar accident does not happen again.
Jonathan (Jon) Lee is the Western Regional Manager for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) in Edmonton, Alberta. He has been investigating with the TSB since 1999, and has been the Western Regional manager since 2004. Jon is the father of three school-aged kids who keep him on the move outside of work. He also works as a consultant for aviation-themed Hollywood movie productions and fancies himself a bit of a musician—but his family would argue otherwise.
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