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Improving and Strengthening the Transport Safety Management System

by Hiroki Sakamoto


 Ensuring safety is a central and fundamental issue in the public transportation sector. When an accident occurs, it not only can cause significant damage, but it can also have an enormous impact on society. Therefore various measures are being undertaken to prevent accidents from occurring.


In October 2006, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) of Japan introduced the 'Transport Safety Management System' in the wake of frequently occurring accidents and other incidents in various transportation sectors, such as railway, automobile, shipping, and airlines. These incidents were primarily those which were caused by human error.

This policy aims to build and strengthen the safety management system, which will be united with the MLIT organization, under the proactive involvement of the top management executive in transport operation. MLIT conducts Transport Safety Management Evaluations, through checks and advice, which is intended to continuously improve the safety management system by using the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Action) cycle. In FY2016, 932 transport operators (59 railways, 640 automobiles, 223 shipping and 10 airlines) were subject to Transport Safety Management Evaluation.


The outline of the Transport Safety Management System is as follows (Figure 1). Based on lessons learned from past serious accidents in the transportation field, it is important for each transport operator to spiral upward (with an awareness of the PDCA cycle) using company-wide efforts toward safety, and the establishment of a safety management system under the leadership of the top management executives. For this reason, business laws related to land, marine, and air transport were amended (promulgated in March 2006) and the Transport Safety Management System was introduced. Under this legislation, transport operators are required to appoint a Chief Safety Management Officer (executive class), set out safety management rules, and promote the improvement and establishment of safety management systems through the leadership of top management. Also, preventive safety-type support systems were implemented through interviews and other measures directed at the transport operators' management division, including their top management executives.



(Figure 1) The outline of the Transport Safety Management System


Transport Safety Management Evaluation teams, belonging to the MLIT and District Transport Bureau, visit transport operators' headquarters to conduct the Transport Safety Management Evaluation on the operators' Top Management and Chief Safety Management Officer (Figure 2). 


(Figure 2) Transport Safety Management Evaluation on Top Management


The team conducts a positive evaluation and provides advice, to help promote continuous improvements, based on items from the guidelines to the system, some of which are as follows (and in Figure 3).

  • Formulate and promulgate safety policies

  • Formulate and review priority safety measures

  • Ensure communication

  • Collect and use information on accidents and near-miss events

  • Implement education and training

  • Conduct internal audits, etc. (14 items)



(Figure 3) Evaluation Chart of Transport Safety Management Evaluation


In FY2016, MLIT hosted transport safety management seminars for transport operators in order to deepen understanding of this system, and these seminars were attended by 3,789 people. In FY2015, 7,043 people attended seminars, as part of an accredited seminar program that was established in 2013 for the purpose of further disseminating and shedding light on this system to small and medium-sized transport operators (programs through which transport safety management seminars organized by private-sector organizations are accredited by the MLIT).


October 2016 was designated as the "10 Years of Strengthening Transport Safety Management Month" to mark the 10 years that had passed since the system was introduced. Evaluations by MLIT had been conducted on approx. 7,500 transport operators over the past 10 years at that point, which contributed greatly to the improvement of their safety.

MLIT carried out initiatives to further spread and instill the system, including holding discussions about how the system should work in the future, such as the "2016 Symposium on Safety in the Transport Business: Review of the 10 Years since the Introduction of the Transport Safety Management System and Directions for the Next 10 Years," and the "Transport Safety Management 10th Anniversary Seminar."


Moreover, the system's effects and issues were reviewed and discussions were held by the Transport Council's Task Force on Ensuring Transport Safety, in order to study the future evolution of the system. Based on the report from the Council, MLIT revised the fundamental policy to implement the Transport Safety Management System in 2017. The main revisions were: prioritizing the Transport Safety Management Evaluation on chartered bus operators, promoting the development of safety management of small to medium-sized transport operators, and strengthening support for Chief Safety Management Officers of transport operators. Furthermore, it promoted support for transport operators to cope with the emerging challenges in recent transport sectors such as the shortages of drivers in transport industries, deteriorated transport infrastructures, serious damage to transport facilities from natural disasters and terrorist attacks as well as other issues and challenges.


Strengthening safety measures is the top priority in all transport modes, and continuous and effective efforts by both the private and public sectors through the Transport Safety Management System are keys to establish safe and secure public transport systems.

May 2018

Feature Article

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