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Safety Culture: A Solid Track Record and Shared Commitment to Continuous Improvement

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By Ben Chursinoff

Safety is paramount for everyone in Canadian rail whether you work in a train crew, mechanical services, track maintenance, or business operations. Safety is a driver for all.

Railways invest massively in continuous improvement. Over the last decade, Canada’s railways have invested $20.9 billion in infrastructure and technology to enhance safety and efficiency. They also devote significant resources to training and outreach programs. All of this, to nurture an ever-stronger safety culture.

Safety culture encompasses shared attitudes, values, beliefs, behaviors, perceptions, and assumptions regarding safety in the workplace. In essence, it’s about each person committing to safety and living that commitment in everything they do. No matter how robust the policies, rules, and technologies may be, culture matters. Instilling a shared commitment to safety in every worker is vital. (It’s also one big reason Canada’s railways are among the safest in the world and getting safer all the time.)

The Railway Association of Canada’s (RAC) Safety Culture Improvement Initiative (SCII) is part of the overall commitment to continuous improvement. Launched in 2014, the SCII allows RAC members to access:

  • confidential safety culture assessments conducted by credible third-party practitioners
  • best practices
  • training
  • education, and
  • a collaborative forum for industry-wide safety culture discussions.

Assessments are highly adaptable to each railway and yield valuable insights about organizational safety culture. They involve perceptual surveys, focus groups, interviews, and document review. Each assessment results in a detailed report to guide a railway’s actions going forward.

Members of the RAC team then work with railways to develop action plans to reinforce five key elements of a strong safety culture. These are:

  • leadership commitment to safety
  • employee engagement
  • two-way communication
  • learning culture
  • and a fair and just culture.

RAC is now offering re-assessment opportunities for railways that have previously completed a safety culture assessment. Not only do reassessments signal that safety is a journey, these follow-ups provide organizations with ‘pulse checks’ and ways of tracking positive impacts.

Leaders and supervisors play a critical role in safety culture as they model positive behaviours. The RAC is developing a virtual training initiative called Safety Culture Asynchronous Leadership Education (SCALE). SCALE will equip leaders, managers, and supervisors with an overview of safety culture, its relevance to their specific work environments, and practical methods for incorporating safety culture best practices into their day-to-day responsibilities. The full launch of SCALE is anticipated for 2024. Stay tuned!

Safety culture is about building a safer future for all. Through strategic investments, comprehensive assessments, collaborative initiatives, and ongoing training and education programs, Canada’s railways are living their commitments to uphold the highest safety standards, ensuring the well-being of their workforce and stakeholders, and further contributing to the communities they serve.

Ben Chursinoff is RAC’s Manager of Policy, Environment and Programs. Contact him to discuss or schedule at safety culture assessment at BChursinoff@railcan.ca.