The Canadian Auditor General’s office has raised concerns about how dangerous goods are transported in Canada, in a report that may have far-reaching effects on Transport Canada, as well as the transportation and chemical industries. The conclusion in the report that “Transport Canada has not designed and implemented the management practices needed to effectively monitor regulatory compliance with the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992” has already become a major news story, raising public concern. But how valid are these concerns?
Scott Vaughn, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, this week issued his report on the performance of Transport Canada and the National Energy Board. The report, issued as the 2011 December Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development found, among other areas of concern:
- Transport Canada lacks a consistent approach to planning and implementing compliance activities. In particular, it has not established a “risk based” approach to monitoring companies involved in transporting dangerous goods.
- There is a lack of follow-up on reported deficiencies. Corrective action is not consistently taken when violations are discovered. Documentation of corrective actions is often missing or incomplete.
- The system for approving and overseeing Emergency Response Assistance Plans (ERAPs) is slow, and many plans are given merely “interim” approvals, but never progress to full approval (some have been designated interim as long as ten years).
- Inspectors lack detailed guidance on how to enforce and monitor compliance.
The report identifies some significant areas of concern, and Transport Canada has committed to addressing these issues. However, it should be pointed out that most of the issues raised by the Commissioner are not related to actual incidents, but the day-to-day administrative procedures of the department. In general, Canada’s record in safe transportation of dangerous goods is still very good. The number of accidents related to non-compliant dangerous goods is low, and most incidents are dealt with quickly and appropriately, due to the hazard communication requirements of the regulations.
Companies involved in the transportation of dangerous goods in Canada should watch the developments from this report carefully. As the government tries to address these concerns, we may see improvements for industry, such as speedier approvals, but there may also be a downside. Will the criticism of Transport Canada’s enforcement procedures result in inspectors taking a more “hard-nosed” approach during investigations?
The text of the report can be read at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_cesd_201112_01_e_36029.html . If you have questions about this report, or dangerous goods issues in general, please contact ICC The Compliance Center Inc. at 1-888-977-4834 (Canada) or 1-888-442-9628 (USA).