Transportation Safety Board looks ahead

Wendy A. Tadros,
Chair, Transportation Safety Board of Canada

(This article was published in the 02 Febuary 2010 issue of the Hill Times.)

The phone rings in the middle of the night. A small fishing vessel, stricken and without power, is taking on water off the coast of Newfoundland. Emergency personnel are notified and, with search-and-rescue crews racing to the scene, investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada prepare to go to work. Within hours, the TSB is en route to assess the situation, interviewing witnesses and examining evidence to answer three key questions: what happened, why, and how can we stop it from happening again?

For 20 years, the Transportation Safety Board has investigated thousands of occurrences, always with the same goal: to advance transportation safety by uncovering safety lessons, and communicating those lessons for the benefit of Canadians. Now, as we enter our third decade, we look back on 20 years of successes—many of which have been instrumental in changing operating practices, equipment, and the laws that underpin the transportation industry.

In the Marine mode, for example, TSB investigations and recommendations have prompted international regulators to require survival suits for all crew members on commercial vessels. Domestically, small passenger vessels now need a float-free liferaft, larger operators are increasingly carrying Voyage Data Recorders, and all passengers must now receive a safety briefing prior to each voyage.

Pipelines have become safer, too. A TSB investigation helped jumpstart the creation of an integrity management program to deal proactively with system deficiencies. Other investigations have prompted advances in pipeline spacing, as well as improvements in the emergency shutoff system, and substantive changes in the federal electrical code. Many of these measures have since been adopted by companies and regulators worldwide.

Rail travel has seen similar safety benefits. Following a derailment caused by defective wheels, a TSB investigation led to prompt action to remove them from our railways. Other TSB investigations have led to new crash worthiness standards for data recorders, improved delivery of emergency information to passengers, tougher standards for maintenance rails, computerized records to assist with track repairs, and safer storage of dangerous goods near our cities.

Elsewhere, cooperation between our investigators and international aviation regulators and manufacturers has led to improved inspection techniques for aircraft parts made from composite materials. The TSB has also been influential in reducing the risk of contaminated insulation materials and debris that can propagate fires; prohibiting pilots from landing where visibility is poor; and ensuring that planes land at the first sign of smoke from an unknown source.

None of these improvements would be possible without qualified, dedicated people. TSB experts come from such diverse backgrounds as airline pilots, rail and pipeline experts, computer technicians, journalists, lawyers, engineers, fishermen, and members of the Canadian Forces, to name just a few. Whether they are painstakingly putting together the pieces of a shattered airliner, computer modeling the inside of a lifeboat locking mechanism, or mounting convincing arguments for change, these men and women have spent 20 years making the TSB a world leader in transportation safety.

But real safety involves looking forward, too. This year, in addition to publishing reports in all four modes, we will make public a proactive, year-long study into the problems plaguing small fishing vessels. Moreover, as we study the bigger picture in search of trends and pervasive problems, we will let Canadians know which issues pose the greatest risk.

Looking ahead, the TSB will continue to investigate accidents, striving to find out what happened, and why. We do this, and all our work, because a safe transportation system is vital to all Canadians, whether it be on our waterways, along our pipelines and railways, or in our skies.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.