The TSB Watchlist calls on the Canadian marine transportation industry to take action

By Captain Christopher Morrow
Transportation Safety Board of Canada

This article appeared in the May 2015 edition of The Navigator magazine.

Advancing transportation safety in Canada can often be a slow and arduous process. But at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), we are convinced that if we continue to press for change, lives can—and will—be saved.

That's why the TSB works diligently to increase the uptake of the recommendations we make to regulators and industry. Through our investigations, we make compelling arguments to make improvements to safety that will save lives, protect transportation infrastructure and the environment, and ensure a safer transportation system. To that end, last November, the TSB released a third version of its Watchlist (the others having come out in 2010 and 2012), which highlights the eight issues the TSB believes pose the greatest risk to Canada's transportation system. The Watchlist informs industry, lawmakers and the public, of specific risks in Canadian transportation.

The two issues of concern to the marine industry affect Canadians from coast to coast to coast. These issues are supported by several accident investigations, hours of research, and dozens of TSB recommendations. New issues go through a rigorous vetting process for inclusion on the Watchlist.

The first marine Watchlist issue concerns the loss of life on fishing vessels. Canada averaged 134 fishing vessel accidents per year between 2009 and 2013. These fishing vessel accidents comprised 40% of all marine accidents. Alarmingly, the average number of fatalities has remained constant at about one per month. That's why the TSB has long sought to improve fishing vessel safety. It issued its first recommendation on the subject in 1992, and since then, has issued 41 more.

In 2012, the TSB released its Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada. Since then, with nation-wide recognition that the loss of life on fishing vessels is still unacceptable, federal and many provincial regulatory authorities, as well as fishing safety associations have begun to increase safety initiatives. But more still needs to be done.

Fatalities in occurrences such as those involving Cap Rouge II, Hope Bay, Ryan's Commander, Melina and Keith II, Lannie & Sisters II, Big Sister, Craig and Justin, Silver Angel, and Marie J show that vessel stability, crew training, unsafe operating practices, and carriage of immersion suits require greater attention.

Every time the TSB investigates an occurrence, it publishes findings as to causes and contributing factors. But many of these factors are bigger than any one event: they are systemic problems, which need systemic solutions. Concerns also remain about issues such as vessel modifications and their impact on stability; the use and availability of lifesaving equipment; regulatory oversight; and the impact of fishery resource management plans and safe work practices on fishing vessels.

The second Watchlist issue is safety management and oversight and it applies not only to the marine sector, but to the rail, and air sectors as well. A safety management system — or SMS — is an excellent tool to help companies identify risks and to deal with those risks before accidents occur. However, not all marine transportation companies are required to have formal safety processes in place to manage their risks. And for those marine transportation companies that are required to have a formal SMS, they don't always implement it effectively. Moreover, Transport Canada's oversight and intervention has not always proven effective.

The solution is threefold: First, Transport Canada must extend the regulations for formal safety management processes to include a wider range of operators.

Second, those operators that do have an SMS must demonstrate that it is working — in other words, that hazards are being identified, and that effective mitigation measures are being implemented to deal with those hazards.

And third, when companies are unable to effectively manage safety, Transport Canada must not only intervene, but do so in a way that succeeds in changing unsafe practices.

Both of these Watchlist issues will require immediate action if lives, property and the environment are to be protected. Both will need investments of time, energy, and resolve. But they can be solved and we have seen progress.

The Watchlist is the TSB's call to action for the government to make transportation safety a priority — we're also enlisting the fishing and marine transportation industry to take action with Transport Canada to address these important issues.

Over the coming months, Board Members and TSB employees will take every opportunity to meet with stakeholders to remind them of what's needed.  We will continue through our investigations, to lead change, to make the compelling arguments, and to ensure that they are heard by Canadians and by those in positions that can affect transportation safety in a positive way. Where progress has been made and risks have been mitigated, we will say so. But where we see a need for more action, you can be sure that the TSB will be very clear about that as well.