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Safety management and oversight

Some transportation companies are not managing their safety risks effectively, and many are not required to have formal safety management processes in place. Transport Canada oversight and intervention have not always been effective at changing companies' unsafe operating practices.

 Update – What has been done

  • Shortly after the release of the Watchlist, the TSB Chair presented on two occasions during the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) Annual Conference in Vancouver. The presentations highlighted the air and multi-modal Watchlist issues. TSB Board Member Joe Hincke delivered a similar briefing to the Helicopter Association of Canada.
  • Transport Canada has briefed the Board on actions being taken to address the safety management and oversight issue.

Why this matters

All transportation companies are responsible for managing safety risks in their operations.

Some companies consider safety to be adequate as long as they are in compliance with regulatory requirements, but regulations alone cannot foresee all risks unique to a particular operation. That is why the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has repeatedly emphasized the advantages of safety management systems (SMS), an internationally recognized framework to allow companies to effectively manage risk and make operations safer.

SMS has been on the TSB Watchlist since 2010. Since then, there has been no progress on expanding the application of SMS to a broader range of companies.

Numerous recent investigations have found companies that have not managed their safety risks effectively, either because they were not required to have an SMS or because their SMS was not implemented effectively.

The move toward an SMS regime also has to be supported by appropriate regulatory oversight. Regulators will encounter companies with varying degrees of ability or commitment to manage risk effectively, so this oversight must be balanced: it needs to include proactive auditing of companies' safety management processes, ongoing education and training, and traditional inspections to ensure compliance with existing regulations.

Three elements are key to making progress on this Watchlist issue, but TSB investigations have revealed deficiencies that need to be addressed in each:

  1. A clear regulatory framework requiring all companies to implement an SMS appropriate to the scope and size of its operations
    • The railway and pipelineFootnote 1 industries are required to have an SMS, but in the marine and air industries, many companies are still not required to have formal safety management processes.Footnote 2
  2. SMS that are effective in identifying hazards and mitigating risks
    • TSB investigations into some marine, rail, and air accidents have found instances in which safety management processes were weak or not used.Footnote 3
  3. Balanced regulatory oversight
    • Two problems have been observed with respect to Transport Canada oversight: a failure to identify companies' ineffective processes and to intervene when necessary, as well as an imbalance between auditing processes and traditional inspections.Footnote 4

 Action required

This issue will remain on the Watchlist until

  • Transport Canada implements regulations requiring all commercial operators in the air and marine industries to have formal safety management processes and effectively oversees these processes;
  • Transportation companies that do have SMS demonstrate that it is working—that hazards are being identified and effective risk-mitigation measures are being implemented; and
  • Transport Canada not only intervenes when companies are unable to manage safety effectively, but does so in a way that succeeds in changing unsafe operating practices.

 Related information

 Previous Watchlists