Overview of the ATSB
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is an independent Commonwealth Government statutory Agency. The ATSB is governed by a Commission and is entirely separate from transport regulators, policy makers and service providers.
The ATSB's function is to improve safety and public confidence in the aviation, marine and rail modes of transport through excellence in:
- independent investigation of transport accidents and other safety occurrences;
- safety data recording, analysis and research; and
- fostering safety awareness, knowledge and action.
The ATSB is established by the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act) and conducts its investigations in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Under the TSI Act, it is not a function of the ATSB to apportion blame or provide a means for determining liability. The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of taking administrative, regulatory or criminal action.
Often referred to as the ‘no-blame’ approach, this does not equate with ‘no responsibility’. It simply means that disciplinary action and criminal or liability assessment are not part of an ATSB safety investigation and should, if necessary, be progressed through separate parallel processes.
- The Organisation
- The Australian context
- The ATSB transport safety
- Legislative framework
Chief Commissioner’s review 2015–16
The Bureau's Commission is constituted by a full-time Commissioner and three part-time Commissioners.
The ATSB's staff (approximately 100) includes about 60 aviation, marine and rail safety investigators. Most are based in Canberra. Field offices are located in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
ATSB staff are also employed in areas covering notification and confidential reporting, as well as research and analysis (particularly in aviation safety).
The ATSB is a member of key safety bodies which include: the International Transportation Safety Association (ITSA); International Society of Air Safety Investigators (ISASI); Flight Safety Foundation (FSF); and the Marine Accident Investigators' International Forum (MAIIF).
Australians travel vast distances by air, sea, rail and road.
Transport activity grows as the economy grows. All sectors rely on transport to move products and provide services.
Although Australia has an impressive safety record, as transport activity increases, so does the risk of accidents and incidents.
The Australian government, State and Territory governments, local governments, industry and other stakeholders work collaboratively on transport safety.
The ATSB's accident investigation role is a fundamental part of Australia's transport safety framework. Lessons arising from the investigations conducted by the ATSB are used to reduce the risk of future accidents and incidents through the implementation of safety action by industry and the Government.
The independence of the ATSB is integral to the Bureau's safety role. Investigations that are independent of the parties involved in an accident, as well as transport regulators and government policy makers, are better positioned to avoid conflicts of interest and external interference. Being able to investigate without external direction provides an assurance that the findings will be determined and fully reported on without bias.
Bureau publications include reports on the facts and findings of investigations, safety research material, and statistics. Reports often contain safety action and recommendations for authorities and other parties to address in the interests of safety improvements.
Australia's development as a nation through the twentieth century was closely linked to the development of the aviation industry. This industry has helped us overcome vast internal distances and geographical isolation from the rest of the world.
The ATSB is responsible for the independent investigation of accidents and incidents involving civil aircraft in Australia. The ATSB's primary focus is the safety of the travelling public. However, all accidents and incidents related to flight safety in Australia or involving Australian registered aircraft overseas must be reported to the ATSB. While the ATSB does not investigate all of these, it still needs to be notified so that the data can be recorded for possible future safety research and analysis. Please call the toll-free number 1800 011 034 to notify the ATSB of such accidents or incidents.
Australia is a member of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is made up of 190 countries. The ATSB has frequently assisted with international investigations, including through the analysis of flight-recorder ('black box') data.
Marine transport accounts for the vast majority of imports and exports of cargo in and out of Australia, and also plays a significant role through coastal trade. Cruise shipping is also a growth industry.
The ATSB conducts marine investigations into accidents and serious incidents involving Australian registered ships anywhere in the world, foreign flag ships within Australian waters, or where evidence relating to an accident involving ships is found in Australia. Accidents and serious incidents must be reported as soon as practicable to the ATSB. Often such a report will be made through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). If you wish to report a marine accident or incident, you may contact the Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR) on 1800 641 792 or the ATSB on 1800 011 034.
Australia is also a council member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and actively participates in its forums on accident investigations in the interests of making global improvements to shipping safety.
Australia’s rail transport networks are a vital and growing part of the nation’s transport infrastructure. They provide an efficient and effective solution for people movement around our cities, and an important alternative to road freight services across the country. The relative safety of rail transport, and the confidence of its users, is paramount to its attractiveness as a transport solution; however this safety is not implicit. Developed safety systems, mature safety cultures and active oversight all play key roles in maintaining standards.
For many years, Australia has maintained a diversified approach to rail safety oversight. States have operated independent regulatory and investigatory arrangements resulting in differing rulesets and guidelines. In 2011 however, the Council of Australian Governments committed to reforms that have seen the progressive establishment of a single national regulatory and investigatory structure – the ATSB filling the latter role.
Presently, significant (Category A) rail safety occurrences (outside of Queensland and Western Australia) must be reported to the ATSB as soon as is practicable – 1800 011 034, with a follow-up written report supplied to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) within 72 hours. Investigations may be commenced – either directly by ATSB staff from our Perth, Adelaide or Canberra offices, or under a collaborative arrangement with staff from the Office of Transport Safety Investigation (OTSI) or the Chief Investigator Transport Safety, in NSW and Vic respectively.
Category-B (mostly less serious) occurrences are reportable directly to the ONRSR. In the near future, the ATSB anticipates that Queensland and Western Australia will also join the national system. This will complete the vision for Australian rail transport that will encourage economic growth and development across the country.
Our national safety investigation reforms page has more information about the reporting requirements and investigation arrangements for each state.
The TSI Act allows the ATSB to investigate transport safety matters in the aviation, marine and rail transport modes within the Australian Government's constitutional jurisdiction. The Act contains powers for the release of transport safety information, including investigation reports that detail the findings and significant factors that led to a particular transport safety occurrence.
A comprehensive regime of provisions within the TSI Act is in place to maintain the confidentiality of, and legal protection for, a range of sensitive safety information obtained by ATSB investigators. ATSB investigation reports and most evidence collected during an investigation cannot be used in civil or criminal proceedings. ATSB investigation reports may be used in coronial inquiries for the purpose of improving safety.