Sustainability at Suncor

Personal and process safety

When it comes to safety, there can be no compromise. Our focus remains on safety above all else. 

Our Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) and Enterprise Technical teams provide standards, processes and systems to help ensure EH&S compliance and stewardship at all our sites across Suncor. In addition to measures that make Suncor a safe physical working environment, we are also working to ensure all employees and contractors, regardless of role or title, feel psychologically safe to speak up if they don’t feel safe or if they see an unsafe practice. 

Despite the processes and systems we have in place, we had three contractor fatalities at our sites — two at the end of 2020, and one at the start of 2021. These losses are tragic and unacceptable, and it’s clear more work needs to be done. On Dec. 28, 2020, two individuals were fatally injured in a vehicle incident during a routine shift change at our Fort Hills site. On Jan. 13, 2021, another tragic incident occurred with one individual when the dozer they were operating fell through ice at our Base Plant site. Our hearts go out to the individuals’ families, friends and co-workers. We have undertaken thorough investigations and are implementing actions to prevent such incidents in the future. To assist in our investigations, we involved third-party experts in mining and oil sands, and safety experts in fatality prevention. This external team focused on identifying areas where we can improve our safety management system to help prevent fatalities and significant incidents. Moving forward we will:

  • focus on incident prevention, as well as incident recovery
  • improve how our people work within the Operational Excellence Management System  
  • enhance how we identify and evaluate risks, even for routine tasks  
  • learn as work happens, not just following an incident or near-miss  
  • continue building trust within our workforce and engaging people on the frontline. 

These incidents are a stark reminder of the importance of our value of safety above all else, and it is our collective responsibility to prevent serious injuries or fatalities from ever occurring on our sites.  

Two workers in full personal protective equipment standing at Suncor’s Base Plant

Personal safety

We have standards, processes, systems and programs to manage safe work and engage our employees and contractors in safety, all with the goal of ensuring safe work and eliminating serious injuries and fatalities in the workplace. One example is the Serious Injury and Fatality (SIF) program. The program, considered a best practice, was established in 2016 to emphasize the value of reporting, investigating and managing potential SIF incidents and to encourage learning and improved safety performance across our operations. The evolution of our SIF guidelines and targeted safety initiatives has allowed us to make significant progress in identifying and reducing SIF incident risks. We are leveraging the Operational Excellence Management System, as our safety management system, to manage SIF precursors and ensure controls are in place to prevent such incidents.  

In 2020, we updated the Life Saving Rules across the company as a foundational control to help further protect employees and contractors from harm, and not only reduce the likelihood of injuries, but also save lives. The 10 Life Saving Rules we follow align with the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers and Energy Safety Canada. 

We see safety as having effective controls in place that protect workers from unplanned events and engaging with our employees and contractors in safe work practices. 

Emergency Management

Effective emergency management is integral to protecting workers, the environment and our operations. Across the company, we follow an emergency management system that follows the principles of the international Incident Command System. This system provides a standardized enterprise-wide approach to improve effectiveness and efficiency to respond to an incident, as well as aligns to our governments, regulators and peers — we followed this system to quickly respond to COVID-19 threats to our people and our operations.  

In the event of an incident, we respond promptly in a manner that protects the health and safety of our personnel and the public, and minimizes impact on the environment. All our operating sites follow a schedule of tabletop and field-based emergency drills. 

Process safety and reliability

In August 2020, we experienced a fire at our Base Plant operations in the secondary extraction area where bitumen froth is processed before it moves to upgrading. This was a significant safety incident and we initiated a full investigation into its cause, including bringing in third-party experts and benchmarking peers. As a result, we are enhancing our operational risk management systems and consolidating a number of separate operational disciplines into one function. This will enable us to better prioritize risks and focus critical technical resources on operational risk and performance. It will also enable us to improve foundational elements such as establishing rigorous risk frameworks and learning from incidents.

We are also seeing progress in process safety. Our ongoing focus on asset reliability and monitoring has resulted in a decrease in unplanned releases, with loss of primary containment events continuing to trend down year-over-year. We’re also improving and strengthening pipe inspection plans to provide up-to-date health monitoring of our pipe conditions and life cycles. The robustness of our regulatory inspection programs ensures that we continue to operate with an eye on safety above all else.

Strides are also being made in our application of critical process safety programs. This includes the identification of instrumented safeguards; the implementation and stewardship of maintenance programs to achieve the required level of risk mitigation; and how we monitor and report on impacts to our operating parameters. Our ongoing focus on process hazard analysis and management of change ensures that we keep an objective eye on reducing risks in our operating areas. Work to become digitally enabled has driven new and exciting opportunities for asset management systems that allow us to improve process safety and reliability, while also driving down costs.

Safety and Productivity Solution (SPS)

Through the SPS initiative, Suncor has implemented a digital solution to enhance safety and productivity using wireless technology. The solution provides near-real-time gas detection and emergency assistance alerts to a monitoring system to ensure faster response time in emergency situations. By understanding alarm and location data, we can improve the site conditions and processes to reduce gas exposures in those areas for a safer work environment. Suncor also utilizes uses device geolocation and the resulting anonymized data in an analytics tool to measure and drive improved maintenance effectiveness.

Operation Controls

We’re identifying and capitalizing on more opportunities for regional and enterprise-wide safe work practices and procedures. We’re also evaluating technology enablement opportunities related to operational controls, such as electronic permitting systems at our sites. The frontline workforce is engaged in creating these new systems as we seek additional opportunities for standardizing how we work

We are also enhancing incident investigation training to embed learnings in our work practices and implement mitigating actions. Audits and management reviews are in place to ensure our practices are effective and prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.

Through the Digital Control of Work initiative, Suncor is implementing a digital tool to manage all control-of-work processes at operating facilities across the company. The tool helps deliver new enterprise-standard processes and enables continuous improvement through information sharing across all sites to improve field worker safety and hazard and control management.  

Health and safety performance  

In 2020, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our first priority was the health and safety of our people and communities. We continued to focus on metrics, both leading and lagging indicators, to make the best-informed decisions, while managing our COVID response to keep people safe. At the same time, we continued to focus our safety efforts on:  

  • personal and process safety leadership across the organization 
  • effective corrective actions 
  • ensuring we apply lessons learned.  

Our safety performance in 2020 reflects the impacts of our pandemic response measures. With certain projects being cancelled or deferred due to the impact of the pandemic, and only essential workers at our operational sites and office environments, we minimized the exposure to potential hazards and reduced the opportunity for injury.  

COVID protocols

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally, we acted quickly and implemented protocols to keep our people safe and help stop the spread. New measures and processes include increased sanitization, physical distancing, increased personal protective equipment (masks) and protocols for managing on-site symptomatic workers. These measures vary by site due to the nature of the workplace. New processes also applied to office-based workers globally, including work-from-home measures that aligned with local jurisdiction guidelines. In 2021, rapid testing and voluntary vaccination clinics were also implemented at select sites.

Health and wellness

The well-being of our people is of the utmost importance. We strive to foster a culture of well-being that supports and enables our workforce to be their best and contribute their best every day, in the workplace, at home and within their communities.

Our commitment

The economic and social challenges our industry has faced combined with the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted us all. We continue to evaluate the needs of our team and to provide support to focus on overall well-being, including psychological wellness. We recognize that foundational safety principles, such as mind on task, can only be achieved when we are healthy and well, both physically and mentally. By supporting our people, we strive to foster a resilient and thriving workplace.

Psychological/mental well-being 

Indicators of psychological well-being include a person’s level of happiness, life satisfaction, contribution, and positive mental health, and these are critical components of being fit for duty. It’s important that our people feel psychologically safe in the workplace. Those struggling with mental health issues can experience cognitive and physical fatigue, which can impair decision-making, decrease reaction time and attention to detail, and increase incident rates.  

Well-being isn’t one-dimensional. We’re taking a holistic approach to wellness by understanding social, psychological, financial, and physical impacts on well-being and how interdependent they are to overall health. Every Friday, we host interactive webinars with subject matter experts to discuss how to better manage day-to-day health and well-being. Topics vary from meditation to ergonomics, and people are encouraged to provide feedback on future topics. 

In recent years, Suncor has taken a more formalized approach to managing mental health across the company, including having a mental health specialist on the team. To help people prioritize their mental health and ensure they focus on personal safety, we provide various resources year-round to help during times of uncertainty or stress. Our training programs and resources aim to promote a psychologically safe environment and break the stigma around mental health issues. One example is the Mindfulicity online program we launched in 2020 in partnership with the YWCA. The program provides 10 modules relating to mental health and are designed to help people focus attention, emotions and sensations in the present, while creating a psychologically safe and inclusive space for all. The program is also available to employees’ families, and to contractors.

Support for people

The physical and mental health well-being of our people and their families is important to Suncor. We offer a global Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), accessible 24 hours a day, and includes clinical counselling, work-health-life services, and professional advice. Counselling services are available in multiple languages and in eight formats. In 2020, we increased the number of EFAP counselling sessions for each employee from four to 12 and made EFAP available to contractors 

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