Watchlist 2020

Removal of Watchlist issue: Slow progress addressing TSB recommendations

Backgrounder

Since its creation in 1990, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has issued over 600 recommendations aimed at addressing systemic safety deficiencies in the 4 modes of transportation under federal jurisdiction. The vast majority of these recommendations have been directed to Transport Canada (TC) as the regulator. However, in many cases, the regulator did not take sufficient or timely action. As a result, by 2016, there were 52 outstanding recommendations that were at least 10 years old (including 39 that were more than 20 years old). In 2018, this figure stood at 62 (including dormantFootnote 1 recommendations)—or more than 10% of all TSB recommendations ever issued.

Although there were various reasons for the slow implementation of safety measures, the fact remained that, without sufficient action being taken to address the risks, TSB investigations repeatedly identified the same underlying causal and contributing factors.

For this reason, the TSB added the issue of Slow progress addressing TSB recommendations to Watchlist 2016. In doing so, the Board set out three main criteria for action:

  1. that TC make a clear commitment to take action on the outstanding TSB recommendations with which it agrees;
  2. that the Government of Canada improve and accelerate the process for taking action on safety-related recommendations; and
  3. that there be a marked reduction in the backlog of outstanding TSB recommendations, particularly those that will bring Canada back in line with international standards.

By the time Watchlist 2018 was released, there had been some progress, but not enough for Slow progress addressing TSB recommendations to be removed from the Watchlist. In fact, much of the progress was due to changes in the operating environment or to voluntary actions taken by industry, whereas TC had made only limited progress on regulatory action.

The Board therefore modified its criteria for removing this issue from the Watchlist:

  • that TC take the actions needed to reduce the number of active recommendations that are more than 10 years old so that all recommendations that would bring Canada in line with international standards are addressed, and so that there is a marked reduction in the remaining outstanding recommendations for which the regulator has indicated its agreement;
  • that the Government of Canada review and improve interdepartmental processes for expedited implementation of safety recommendations in the air, rail, and marine modes of transportation; and
  • that change agents targeted by the existing 28 dormant recommendations demonstrate to the TSB that the residual risk has been reduced to an acceptable level so that these recommendations can be closed.

As of 2020, there has been significant progress. There are now just 39 outstanding TSB recommendations addressed to TC that are more than 10 years old: 25 in the Air mode, 10 in Marine, and 4 in Rail.

Progress, however, has been different in each mode.

Air

Since 2018, TC has made noticeable efforts to address older recommendations by improving the quality, thoroughness, and timeliness of its responses. TC has taken proactive steps to close a number of older recommendations—for instance, by addressing the standards for the recording capacity and power supply for cockpit voice recorders.

In 2019–20, the Board reassessed the remaining 25 recommendations that were more than 10 years old, assigning them the following ratings: Satisfactory Intent (7), Satisfactory in Part (7), Unable to Assess (7), and Unsatisfactory (4). It must also be noted that, of these 25 recommendations, 3 support another Watchlist issue (Runway overruns),Footnote 2 and 15 are dormant.Footnote 3

Although additional work remains, the TSB is encouraged by TC’s commitment in maintaining this positive momentum and taking the necessary actions to tackle long-standing safety issues in the aviation sector.

Marine

In 2016 there were 10 outstanding recommendations more than 10 years old, a figure that had risen to 12 by the time Watchlist 2018 was released. For 2020, this figure has gone back down to 10.

Although the Marine mode has seen less progress than other modes, many of the outstanding relevant recommendations support other Watchlist issues. For instance, five of the 10 active recommendations over 10 years old address the Watchlist issue of Commercial fishing safety, whereas a sixth recommendation concerns safety management systems (SMS) on small passenger vessels.

Rail

There are 4 Rail recommendations over 10 years old, though only 2 are active.Footnote 4 Of these two active recommendations, one supports another Watchlist issue (Following railway signal indications). The other recommendation deals with national standards for locomotive data recorders. Given the passage of Bill C-49, the development by TC of the Locomotive Voice and Video Recorder (LVVR) Regulations, and their subsequent summer 2020 publication in the Canada Gazette, Part II,Footnote 5 this safety deficiency will be fully resolved when the regulations come into force in two years.

Government of Canada processes

On each of the previous two Watchlist editions, a key criterion for the removal of Slow progress addressing TSB recommendations was an improvement in Government of Canada processes. To this end, the TSB has apprised central agencies (such as the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Privy Council Office) of the issues at hand; but at the end of the day, it is up to TC to determine and put forth its priorities.

Conclusion

Prior Watchlist editions have consistently called for a marked reduction in the number of outstanding recommendations. Given that TC has taken substantial action over the past few years, and given the significant continued progress the TSB has seen, the Board feels that it can now remove this issue from the Watchlist.

The TSB will continue to monitor the situation through other Watchlist issues and its annual reassessment of outstanding recommendations. Should there be an increase in the number of recommendations that take too long to receive sufficient action, this issue may return to a future edition of the Watchlist.

Table 1. TSB recommendations that were outstanding (active or dormant) for 10 years or more at the publication of Watchlists 2016, 2018, and 2020
Watchlist edition Number of recommendations active for 10 years or more Number of dormant recommendations Total recommendations outstanding for 10 years or more
2016 52 N/A 52
2018 34 28 62
2020 22 17 39
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