21 August 2014
Talk About Oversight
Ottawa Ontario - There's plenty of blame to go around in the Lake Megantic train derailment and explosion, blame for the company's lax safety culture and standards, blame for the way the engine was left un-staffed, blame for insufficient oversight.
All those factors were raised in the Transportation Safety Board report on the crash, which killed 47 people in the small Quebec town last summer.
But of the 18 major factors that the board determined caused the crash, factors that the board disclosed in its report on Tuesday, perhaps the most significant are the last three.
Because while most of the factors are specific to the Lake Megantic crash, the last three have to do with the general weakening of government oversight.
To put it bluntly, those three factors are the ones that, if left unaddressed, could be the source of future accidents.
Here they are:
"16. Despite being aware of significant operational changes at Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), Transport Canada (TC) did not provide adequate regulatory oversight to ensure the associated risks were addressed."
"17. The TC Quebec Region did not follow up to ensure that recurring safety deficiencies at MMA were effectively analyzed and corrected, and consequently, unsafe practices persisted."
"18. The limited number, and scope of safety management system audits, that were conducted by TC Quebec Region, and the absence of a followup procedure to ensure MMA's corrective action plans had been implemented, contributed to the systemic weaknesses in MMA's safety management system remaining unaddressed."
There are plenty of people who dismiss government oversight of businesses as red tape and needless bureaucracy.
From fish farming, to highway transport, to heavy industry, you can always find someone willing to grouse about the costs of living up to government standards.
Businesses, they claim, have a vested interest in safety, safety makes financial sense, and no reasonable business person would knowingly cut corners on safety, because the financial risks are too high.
Unfortunately, that's a crock.
When times get tight financially, businesses become lousy self-regulators.
Corners are cut, risks are taken, and when the inevitable happens, businesses go bankrupt and leave their messes behind.
Clear, constant, regulation by municipal, provincial, and federal agencies constitute the stitch in time that saves nine.
The idea that businesses should self-police their operations may be fine when companies are all financially secure.
Since they are not, citizens have to depend on governments to be effective, competent, and consistent watchdogs.
Federal regulation in this country, from food inspection, to science, to transportation, has declined markedly under the current federal government.
The factors that led to the Lake Megantic crash show clearly why government regulation and oversight is more than just unnecessary red tape.