Canada’s railways dedicate significant attention and resources to continuously improving their safety record—making annual investments in training, infrastructure and leading-edge safety technologies. But the tragic incident in Lac-Mégantic, Que. in 2013 prompted the industry to take a closer look at another factor that is less obvious, but critical to railway safety: safety culture.
Safety—It Starts at the Beginning
Creating a strong safety culture is about ensuring that an entire organization—from top to bottom— is on the same page when it comes to safety. It’s about making sure everyone shares the same values, attitudes, competencies and patterns of behaviour. It’s also about ensuring that everyone feels comfortable speaking up if they see something that jeopardizes safety. A weak safety culture can be a contributing factor in catastrophic events, but when a strong safety culture is in place, it can make all the difference in preventing incidents from happening.
To help Canada’s railways foster a healthy safety culture, RAC created a new Safety Culture Initiative in 2014. The idea behind it is simple—getting people within the rail industry talking about, and thinking about, how to make safety the top priority in all decision-making, planning and day-to-day operations.
As part of the initiative, RAC has developed a safety culture assessment tool in partnership with experts in the safety culture research community, the railway industry, and Transport Canada’s Railway Research Advisory Board. The tool is being used to survey railway staff—from management to supervisors and tradespeople—to gauge their views about their company’s safety culture. Based on the survey’s results, RAC is helping its members to develop and implement concrete plans of action, to ensure that a positive safety culture is achieved and maintained at each railway.
Working Together to Build a Safer Rail Industry
Safety culture can have a direct impact on the effectiveness of a railway’s Safety Management System (SMS). If an employee believes that productivity is valued more than safety in their organization’s culture, then he or she might cut corners by working unsafely and not following the SMS—which puts the employee and the railway at risk. That’s why RAC supports its members in proactively maintaining an effective SMS, while helping railways to strengthen their safety culture.
RAC has established a Safety Culture Steering Committee—made up of members and outside experts—that is assisting the association in:
- developing tools and best practices that can be accessed by member railways;
- developing specific courses and training on safety culture;
- making resources and expertise available to help railways assess and strengthen their safety culture;
- delivering workshops for member railways on safety culture and the use of the new safety culture measurement tool; and
- disseminating information on safety culture events, research and expertise.
A healthy safety culture isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s good for business, and essential to ensuring the safety of Canada’s railway employees and the public.
For more information about RAC’s Safety Culture Initiative, please contact:
Policy Analyst and Program Coordinator