Transportation Safety Board's advice unheeded years after crashes

Recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), the agency that works to see Canadians better protected in planes, trains and watercraft, are routinely ignored and in some cases take decades to be addressed.

Some Transportation Safety Board of Canada recommendations made years ago have yet to be addressed

The TSB made many recommendations following the 2013 crash between this OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail train. Most of those have not yet been addressed. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), the agency that works to see Canadians better protected in planes, trains and watercraft, are routinely ignored and in some cases take decades to be addressed.

Last week, the agency joined the Ottawa police-led investigation into the double-decker bus crash that killed three people and cost some survivors their limbs.

The board is not leading the investigation and will therefore not make recommendations, but even when it does, its advice can go unheeded for years.

Outstanding calls

More than 80 per cent of the TSB's 598 recommendations issued as of last October have been assessed as fully satisfactory.

But there were more than 62 outstanding TSB recommendations that were more than 10 years old.

Twenty-two of those were more than two decades old.

The outstanding recommendations include calls to improve seaplane safety that date from the early 1990s and calls for better cockpit recorders from the Swissair disaster off Nova Scotia in 1998.

Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB, said it understands changes need thorough study but these delays are simply too long, especially when Transport Canada agrees there is a problem. 

"We understand that some of these issues are tough issues and some are not to be resolved overnight," she said.

"It shouldn't take 10, 20 years to address some of these issues when they agree with them."

She said it doesn't make recommendations lightly and it's aiming to prevent further disasters. 

"Sometimes risk can be considered high even on very occasional or rare events, because if they do happen the consequences would be catastrophic," she said. 

A family member of a victim of the Swissair Flight 111 crash looks out over the Atlantic Ocean next to the memorial. The TSB made recommendations after this crash in 1998 that have also not yet been addressed.

Minister defends department 

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he understands why people want immediate change, but that is not always possible.

"Naturally whenever something happens, people would like an instant solution. It does take time to look at very complex events like accidents," he said.

Garneau said the department does its best to make improvements, but there are a lot of details to work through and he has faith in his department. 

"We take every recommendation that comes from the [TSB] extremely seriously," he said.

"I will tell you that we don't sit around sort of looking at these things or putting their recommendations on the shelf. We address them as rapidly as we can."

Consultation trap

Fox said she finds the department can often get stalled in consultation, hoping to reach a consensus that might not be possible.

"They seem to be trying to achieve consensus from the stakeholders and the stakeholders don't always agree," she said.

And when Transport Canada has to work with other departments, it can further stall the process again.

The board made several recommendations after the 2013 crash between a Via Rail train and an OC Transpo bus.

The TSB urged Transport Canada to set guidelines for on-board video displays so they wouldn't distract drivers. The board also advised the department to set crash performance standards for buses, and tighten regulations for separating rail and vehicular traffic.

The TSB also suggested Transport Canada require buses to have data recorders capable of surviving a crash. In the 2013 OC Transpo crash, only one of eight data recorders survived intact.

Most of the TSB's recommendations into that incident have not yet been addressed.