Watchlist 2018 — Opening remarks
Chair, Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Member, Transportation Safety Board of Canada
29 October 2018
Check against delivery.
Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is releasing Watchlist 2018. For this latest edition we've identified seven issues that must be addressed to make Canada's transportation system even safer.
Since the Watchlist was introduced back in 2010, it has served as our blueprint for change: we highlight where the biggest problems are; we call on government and industry leaders to take action; we report publicly on their progress; and, when the risks have been sufficiently reduced, the issue is removed from the list.
This year, we removed three issues from the Watchlist: the transportation of flammable liquids by rail, the requirement for on-board voice and video recorders in main-track locomotives and, in aviation, the issue of unstable approaches that are continued to a landing at Canadian airports. For each of these issues, the march toward safety has been as difficult as it has been impressive, and so full credit is due to all those who worked to make it happen: railway operators, unions and tank-car manufacturers, legislators, the country's major air carriers, and Transport Canada.
That's the good news. What's more troubling is the ongoing status of some of the issues we singled out on the previous edition of the Watchlist—issues that, even back in 2016, weren't new. For instance:
- runway overruns, and the risk of collisions, which continue to occur at Canadian airports;
- railway signals that aren't consistently followed, thus posing a risk of serious train collisions or derailments; and
- the way in which some transportation companies fail to manage their safety risks, and how oversight by Transport Canada is not always effective.
The TSB has repeatedly laid out compelling arguments to address those issues, backed up by our investigations, statistics, meetings with key stakeholders and, often, multiple recommendations.
Has our work had an effect? Government and industry stakeholders are certainly aware of these issues, and more often than not they agree with what action should be taken. Sometimes they've even taken steps toward fixing a problem. Just not enough to take it off the Watchlist.
And then there are the really challenging issues, a pair of problems where, frankly, the TSB is disappointed by stakeholders' failure to advance the yardstick.
I'm talking first about the track record of Canada's commercial fishing industry, where the annual death toll has climbed to its highest level in a decade: 17 fatalities this year already. Why? Because while more and more fish harvesters recognize the value of wearing a life jacket or using an emergency signalling device, there are still many who don't. And because Transport Canada still hasn't issued user-friendly guidelines on vessel stability. And because the industry's safety culture still has a long way to go before its members stopaccepting far more risk than necessary.
This in turn is compounded by the other big disappointment: the slow pace with which a number of TSB recommendations have been addressed by Transport Canada and other stakeholders. For instance, there are dozens of TSB recommendations that have been active for over a decade without a fully satisfactory response. Yes, Transport Canada is aware of the problem, and two years ago the Minister of Transport directed the department to identify areas where matters could be accelerated.
But since then, progress has been limited: Transport Canada has missed repeated deadlines in responding to the TSB, and we have yet to see improvements in the underlying interdepartmental processes required to put our recommendations into effect. What was supposed to be “expedited” has instead gone almost nowhere.
As my colleague said earlier, the TSB is quite willing to give credit when government and industry leaders get together to solve problems. But removing one or two or even three issues from the Watchlist is only a start. And promising action is not the same as delivering it. Especially when the plain truth is that inaction can cost lives.
We have mentioned six of the seven topics on this year's Watchlist, so I'll close today with a brief look at an issue that has appeared in over 90 TSB investigations over the years: fatigue. It's pervasive, especially in a 24/7 industry like transportation, where rail, marine, and flight crews can work long and irregular schedules — sometimes in challenging conditions or across multiple time zones. That, in turn, means crews don't always get enough restorative sleep, which can impair human performance. To fix this, there needs to be a profound change in attitudes and behaviours, both at the management and operational levels. That means taking steps such as: awareness training; fatigue-management plans; modernizing duty-time regulations for train crews, marine watchkeepers, and pilots; and making sure that, in general, work-rest rules are based on science — and not just the way things have always been done.
And that's the challenge, really— for the TSB, for government, for transportation companies and unions everywhere … and for all those Canadians who work in the industry and rightfully expect to be kept safe from harm. Advancing safety is all about change, and change is all about looking at how things have always been done and then finding ways to do them better. The safety of Canadians everywhere, and the integrity of our infrastructure and environment, depend on it.