Transportation Safety Board says feds not doing enough to enforce safe transport

OTTAWA – The Transportation Safety Board says the federal government isn’t doing enough to enforce proper safety practices by Canada’s railways, airlines and marine operators.

The board, which investigates transport accidents and makes recommendations for improvement, released its 2014 watch list of significant safety issues Wednesday.

The annual list cites problems that the investigative board believes are of ongoing concern.

This year it takes direct aim at Transport Canada’s oversight of self-regulatory safety systems, notwithstanding a series of Conservative government announcements designed to bolster public confidence.

Citing the deadly derailment and fire in Lac-Megantic, Que., that claimed 47 lives last year, the Transportation Safety Board says the federal regulator has failed to identify safety problems under its watch and has put too much emphasis on company audits rather than on-the-ground inspections.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has strongly defended so-called safety management systems, or SMS — a self-regulatory approach to government oversight in which federal auditors monitor companies’ own safety reports rather than inspecting their operations directly.

Last month Raitt announced her department would hire 10 new auditors, doubling the number employed by Transport Canada across the country.

“An SMS on its own is not enough,” Kathy Fox, the chair of the board, said in the TSB release.

“That’s why we are calling on (Transport Canada) to regularly oversee all safety management systems and processes to ensure they are effective.”

Fox added that “when transportation companies are unable to effectively manage safety, TC must intervene in a way that succeeds in changing unsafe operating practices.”

The release states there is “an imbalance between auditing processes versus traditional inspections.”

The board also warns that while all federally regulated railways are required to have a safety management system, that is not the case for all marine and air operators. That needs to change, says the TSB.

The board called on the department to ensure railway companies properly classify flammable liquids and “ship them in containers of the safest design,” while also assessing rail routes to mitigate risks.

A spokeswoman for the transport minister said all the recommendations on the watch list are being reviewed.

“Transport Canada continues to consult with industry and unions on how to best address the issues raised by the Transportation Safety Board,” said the emailed response from Raitt’s office.

“That being said, Transport Canada has taken a number of actions to enhance the safety of our transportation system and will continue to do so. We thank the TSB for their work and share their objective for a safer transportation system.”

Just last week, Raitt announced new railway operating certificates would come into effect in the new year, a measure she said would further enhance rail safety oversight.

However the certificates simply require a senior executive to attest that the rail company has done an internal risk analysis, without submitting any documentary proof. That executive cannot be held personally liable for the safety attestation at a later date, say government documents supporting the new legislation.

Newly released government spending documents, meanwhile, show that the budgets for rail, marine and air safety oversight at Transport Canada have been cut between 20 and 27 per cent over the last five years, even as volatile oil-by-rail shipments have increased exponentially.

“For each of the issues identified on our watch list — issues supported by our science, and our thorough examination of the facts and findings in every accident we investigate — we believe actions taken to date are insufficient,” said Fox, the TSB chair.

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