Watchlist issues

Safety management systems

Added to the Watchlist on August 16,2010


Implemented properly, safety management systems (SMS) allow transportation companies to identify hazards, manage risks, and develop and follow effective safety processes. However, Transport Canada (TC) does not always provide effective oversight of transportation companies transitioning to SMS, while some companies are not even required to have one.


Safety is a key component of any healthy industry, and an effective SMS enables operators to identify operational hazards, assess risks, and identify potential mitigation strategies.

In the marine community, the value of SMS has long been recognized. Since July 2002, all vessels over 500 gross tonnage that sail in international waters have had to meet the requirements of the International Safety Management Code and implement an SMS. However, this requirement does not apply to vessels that operate domestically, including the hundreds of passenger and commercial vessels over 500 tonnes.1

Although SMS has been in place in the rail industry since 2001, recent investigations have shown that the railways are not always taking effective action to identify and mitigate risk through their safety management systems. The TSB has also found that regulatory audits are not always effective and may not consistently produce the expected benefits.

In the aviation industry, some companies still need to do more to develop their SMS in order to better identify hazards. However, as the TSB noted following two recent investigations,2 without effective oversight, these hazards may not be properly addressed.



The TSB has repeatedly emphasized the advantages of safety management systems in the marine industry, citing numerous deficiencies in various occurrences over the last 12 years.3 Following a 2002 investigation of four fatalities, the TSB recommended that TC ensure small passenger vessels have an SMS.4 In addition, following a 2006 investigation into the loss of a crew member aboard a sail-training vessel,5 the TSB advocated the adoption of effective SMS for both domestic and foreign sail-training vessels. To date, however, this has not yet taken place.

  • TC should require domestic commercial shipping operations to adopt SMS.

In the rail industry, six separate Board investigations have examined the issue of SMS.6 The Board has also issued four safety communications7 dealing with this issue, as well as a formal recommendation calling for the identification and mitigation of risks to safety as required by a railway's safety management system.8 Significant deficiencies, however, remain across a wide range of operations.

  • Through audits and inspections, TC must proactively monitor SMS practices to ensure they are effectively applied by railways.

In the aviation industry, recent TSB investigations have shown that the transition from traditional safety programs to SMS needs monitoring to reduce the risk of undetected safety deficiencies.

  • The integration of SMS practices into day-to-day operations must be closely monitored by TC to ensure that industry, as a whole, makes a smooth transition to an SMS environment.

This page is available as a brochure in PDF

  1. Source: Transport Canada
  2. TSB Investigation Reports A07A0134 and A08W0068
  3. TSB Investigation Reports M99L0126, M98C0004, M03W0073, M03L0026, M02W0135 and M02W0061
  4. TSB Investigation Report M02C0030 (Lady Duck), Recommendation M04-01
  5. TSB Investigation Report M06F0024 (Picton Castle)
  6. TSB Investigation Reports R03V0083, R05V0141, R06V0136, R06V0183, R07V0213 and R08M0015
  7. Rail Safety Advisories (RSA) 02/07, 12/07, 14/07 and 04/08
  8. TSB Investigation Report R06V0136