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Building a Framework

There is an oft-used adage in the helicopter business, indeed in all of aviation, that “any accident affects all of us.”


March 5, 2014
By Walter Heneghan

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There is an oft-used adage in the helicopter business, indeed in all of aviation, that “any accident affects all of us.” Being directly involved in safety management for more than seven years now, I am all too familiar with this saying and it keeps me in a state of “constant un-ease” regarding our operations. Lately, though, I have taken to contemplating the safety management challenges in other aspects of the Canadian transportation industry – planes, trains and pipelines. Since Lac Megantic, I look at trains from a different perspective and the recent pipeline explosion in southern Manitoba together with the ongoing Northern Gateway and XL pipeline debates have placed the pipeline industry in the forefront. For these industries, the adage has rung true and has focused the public eye on how safety is managed by railways and pipeline companies. Safety Management Systems (SMS) are getting plenty of attention; how do they compare to what’s required in aviation?

The Railway Safety Act was amended in 2001 to require rail companies to “…implement and maintain a safety management system…” The Railway SMS regulations apply to all railways regardless of size and specify the components required to meet the regulations including the need for safety policies, performance targets, risk control strategies and documentation. There is also a mandated requirement to submit a report each year to the Minister of Transport although there is no mention in the regulations of what type of audit, inspection or program validation process is in effect. Certainly, the Transportation Safety Board investigation into the Lac Megantic tragedy is likely to champion changes.

The National Energy Board (NEB) through the National Energy Board Onshore Pipeline Regulations (OPR) largely regulates the pipeline industry. Revised in 2013, the update stipulated the requirement of an accountable officer who “…has the authority over the company’s human and financial resources required to establish, implement and maintain its management system and protection programs, and to ensure that the company meets its obligations for safety, security and protection of the environment.” There is no specific SMS language in the regulation and the safety management requirements are addressed in section 47 of the regulations by stating only this: “A company shall develop, implement and maintain a safety management program that anticipates, prevents, manages and mitigates potentially dangerous conditions and exposure to those conditions during all activities relating to construction,
operation, maintenance, abandonment and emergency situations.”

For aviation, the requirements for a SMS are set out in more explicit detail as stated in Part 107 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, albeit currently just for Part 705 operations. In addition, there is considerable guidance provided on the Transport Canada (TC) website for
establishing a SMS, even if it is not yet required for the majority of Canadian operators.

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It appears that the aviation side of things is certainly leading the pack – we have comprehensive audit schedules, there is substance to the regulation and there is plenty of guidance regarding how to establish an effective SMS. The results of the Program Validation Process (PVI) are part of the public record and available to anyone who is interested to pursuing a Freedom of Information request. Aviation companies are audited by a wide range of customers on a regular basis, often against standards that are much more stringent than what is being asked from the regulator. It appears that we are well ahead of both the pipeline and railway industries, begging the question, “Why doesn’t the federal government standardize the language of SMS?” There is a wide variance in regulatory guidance and in oversight. The language for aviation SMS requirements is much more specific than that for the railway companies and the audit process appears much more comprehensive.

For my money, this is worrisome. While TC has provided plenty of guidance regarding SMS, the fact that the regulations do not apply to the majority of operators should be cause for concern. Much of the progress in the development of SMS is being driven by our client base just as much of the progress in the railway and pipeline industries appear driven by reactive processes to major events. SMS, if properly implemented and validated, can make the transportation sector safer. Why doesn’t the government take these lessons learned and standardize the language of SMS and ensure implementation across these industries through proper regulation and adequate funding? As citizens, we are owed nothing less.


Walter Heneghan is the VP of Safety and Quality at Canadian Helicopters. A passionate advocate for aviation safety and sound risk management, the veteran pilot presents his regular column for Helicopters magazine.


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