What is safety culture?

    Safety culture is defined in terms of the shared values, beliefs, actions, and behaviours that demonstrate a collective responsibility and commitment to safety at all levels of an organization. It is demonstrated by the alignment of their actions, decisions and behaviours with the organization’s safety policies, procedures and practices. The concept of safety culture was coined after the 1986 Chernobyl accident and emerged from the need to describe the less tangible factors that influence how effectively an organization manages safety.

    Why is safety culture important?

    A strong safety culture is generally considered as a vital condition to a well-functioning safety management system (SMS). As the Railway Safety Act review panel noted in its 2018 report, “the cornerstone of a truly functioning SMS is an effective safety culture.” Achieving an effective safety culture is the ultimate goal of a SMS.

    How will a safety culture policy improve rail safety?

    An effective safety culture in a railway company can reduce public and employee fatalities and injuries, property damage resulting from railway accidents, and the impact of accidents on the environment. The absence of a safety culture has been noted as an important contributing factor in many rail accidents. The purpose of developing a policy statement for Rail Safety is to provide a basis for a shared understanding of the positive traits and negative influences relating to safety culture.  Sharing the same values and beliefs can help the industry to develop strategies to improve rail safety, and reinforce the effectiveness of the safety management systems that railway companies use.

    Why was the Safety Culture Policy Statement developed?

    As part of the response to the 2018 Railway Safety Act Review, Transport Canada drafted a policy statement to demonstrate its commitment to supporting and encouraging the development of a positive rail safety culture. The statement will also help railway companies to define the traits that affect safety culture in a positive or negative way.

    How has Transport Canada approached the development of the Policy Statement?

    In developing its Policy Statement, Transport Canada has engaged other high-hazard industry regulators (e.g., the National Energy Board and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) to learn from their experiences with safety culture. The Department has worked closely with industry and other stakeholders, and built on safety culture research underway in academia, such as research at Saint Mary's University in Nova Scotia.

    What is the rail industry’s role in promoting safety culture?

    In order to develop and maintain a positive safety culture, organizations have to make safety a way of life; it must be integral to the way the company, management and employees do business. Railway companies are taking steps to implement safety culture by conducting safety culture assessments to understand how to strengthen their safety regimes and identify areas for improvement. Companies with a strong safety culture are constantly learning and sharing with employees in a trusting environment to understand, assess and manage risk.

    Why has there been a delay in bringing the Policy Statement forward?

    Transport Canada drafted a safety culture policy for Canada’s rail industry in the summer of 2019. Consultation with the rail industry and key stakeholders was delayed due to the federal election and the Caretaker Convention that places restrictions on consultations during an election period. This work was further delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Does Transport Canada want to regulate safety culture in the future?

    No, Transport Canada does not have plans to develop regulations on safety culture. The statement is meant to complement the safety management systems already being used by the industry.

    What role will public consultations play?

    Consultation with industry and other stakeholders is a critical step toward developing the strongest possible policy statement, one that reflects the whole Canadian railway industry. Feedback will be taken into consideration when finalizing the policy statement. Once it is released, both Transport Canada and the rail industry can use it to better understand the challenges of creating a positive safety culture. It can also help to identify areas that need to be improved, and to create strategies to manage issues that can have a negative effect on rail safety in Canada.