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Interview protocols in transport safety investigations

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is Australia’s national transport safety investigator. When things go wrong in transport safety, we find out what happened so it doesn’t happen again. We don’t investigate to lay blame but to improve safety.

The ATSB understands the stress that may be involved when participating in an interview for an investigation. To ensure the person being interviewed (the ‘interviewee’) feels as comfortable as possible, investigators aim to create an informal atmosphere in which to conduct the interview.

During an investigation, ATSB investigators may interview people from a variety of organisations. Interviews will always be conducted on an individual basis. For example, the crew members of a multi-crew aircraft, ship or rail vehicle will be interviewed separately. This ensures the most accurate information is obtained and interviewees are not influenced by each other as they recall events.

The ATSB has a core function of improving transport safety, primarily through independent investigation of transport accidents and incidents. The ATSB performs its functions in accordance with the provisions of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (TSI Act).  The ATSB does not investigate for the purpose of apportioning blame or determining liability or fault.

The ATSB is entirely separate from transport regulatory authorities such as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator and state rail safety regulators, and also from service providers such as Airservices Australia and the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Under the provisions of the TSI Act, ATSB investigators may interview anyone involved directly or indirectly in a transport safety occurrence. Individuals not directly involved in a particular accident or incident may also be interviewed regarding certain operations or processes within an organisation.

ATSB interviews

It is ATSB policy to electronically record interviews wherever possible.

Electronically recorded interviews ensure both parties have access to an accurate record of what was discussed for later reference. Recording also allows investigators to focus on actively listening to an interviewee, rather than if they were taking detailed notes. The interviewee will be offered a copy of the recording.

Interview information

Interview recordings and notes are kept within the ATSB for use in the investigation process. What you tell us in an interview is classified as ‘restricted information’ and is normally only used for the ATSB investigation. Beyond information released in public reports the ATSB can only disclose restricted information in extremely limited circumstances.

Restricted information can not generally be disclosed in criminal proceedings. It can only be disclosed in civil court proceedings if the Chief Commissioner signs a certificate stating that the disclosure of the information is not likely to interfere with any investigation. In practice, it is highly unlikely a record of interview would be disclosed to any civil proceedings. Restricted information is exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information.

Under section 32 of the TSI Act, ATSB investigators can provide an interviewee with a written notice to attend an interview and answer questions. If the interviewee is answering a question that may incriminate them or make them liable to a penalty, then section 47 applies. Section 47 prevents any answer, or any information obtained as a direct or indirect consequence of the answer, from being admitted as evidence against the person in any civil or criminal proceeding. Section 47 further strengthens the comprehensive restricted information protections. The aim of this additional protection is to encourage an open flow of information in the interest of future transport safety.

It is ATSB practice to conduct Directly Involved Party interviews under section 32. Directly Involved Parties normally include the operating crew, the operator, the transport regulator and any other person or organisation whose reputation is likely to be directly affected following public release of the report.

Information that is gathered by the ATSB during interviews may be reflected in the ATSB investigation report. ATSB reports are de-identified, although in many situations an individual’s position (for example pilot in command, ship’s master, locomotive driver) may be used so reports make sense and safety lessons can be learned by others.

Representatives at interviews

Interviewees are free to invite a representative such as a friend, work colleague or an industrial/legal representative to the interview. Although participation in the interview remains limited to the ATSB investigators and the interviewee, the interviewee may discuss any matter or questions with his or her representative. However, all responses must be those of the interviewee and not their representative.

ATSB investigators don’t permit representatives from other investigation teams (for example, a transport regulator such as CASA, AMSA, rail regulator, a coronial investigator or a company investigator) to attend an ATSB interview with a Directly Involved Party.

ATSB investigation reports

Directly Involved Parties will receive a draft copy of the final investigation report before it is publicly released. These parties will be given from seven to 28 days to provide comment and present evidence in support of the comments. The ATSB will carefully consider those comments before it releases the final report. Section 26 of the TSI Act prevents a person from copying or disclosing the contents of a draft report, except for the purpose of providing comments to the ATSB on the draft report or to take safety action in response to the report’s findings.

ATSB investigation reports cannot be used in evidence in civil or criminal proceedings. ATSB investigation reports may only be used in coronial inquiries for the purpose of improving safety.

The ATSB makes copies of its final investigation reports available to the public. They can be accessed at the ATSB website at www.atsb.gov.au.

Privacy

During the interview the ATSB may collect personal information. The ATSB collects this information for the purposes of investigating transport incidents and accidents. This is authorised by the TSI Act.

The ATSB will use this information for the purposes of the investigation and, subject to the restrictions in the TSI Act, may disclose parts of the information to other parties for the purposes of the investigation. The disclosure will also be in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles under the Privacy Act 1988.

Most personal information held by the ATSB is stored electronically, such as on databases, shared drives or in emails, or on hard copy files. The information is held securely and access is limited to ATSB staff that need to access the material to perform their duties.

Please note the information in this brochure is a general guide only.

For more information on the ATSB investigation process visit www.atsb.gov.au where our privacy policy is also available, or ask for a copy of the policy to be provided to you.

Type: Corporate Brochure
Publication date: 3 July 2014
 
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Last update 03 March 2017
 
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