Front-line workers play key role in safety at Suncor East Coast

Company wins gold in oil and gas category of Canada's Safest Employers awards

Front-line workers play key role in safety at Suncor East Coast

Suncor East Coast Canada made one major change last year in how it does safety: Safety managers actively engaged front-line workers. The company ended the year with no recordable injuries.

“Most of our success last year was working with the front-line folks and refining the risk management tools to make them work for them. We put a lot of dedication into that and making sure we were engaging and listening to that workforce,” says Mike Doyle, team leader for safety, strategy and operations services at Suncor in St. John’s, N.L., which has 300 full-time workers and 450 contract workers.

Suncor put this new approach to work to improve pre-job planning for workers on its offshore installation. Workers had said the toolbox talk form they had been using was of little practical value. So, managers put together a pre-job checklist and then gave it to the workers to try.

“They came back with a pre-job planning form that we could never have done in the office,” Doyle says. “They know the work. They know what’s worked and what hasn’t. Now, they’re taking those lessons and applying them each day when they do a task.”


For offshore workers, who work three weeks and then have three weeks off, it can be a challenge to maintain their focus on safety. So, managers recently began meeting the returning workers as they came off the helicopters, asking them about their time away, updating them on work activities and talking about safety.

“The first few days you get back, you’re still thinking about home. But you’ve got to get your mindset back into it. Those meet-and-greets made a difference. It’s about everyone having the same focus on safety,” says Jamie Clarke, offshore installation manager.

Suncor East Coast recently introduced a system for front-line workers to track and trend observation data, Doyle says. Workers complete job observations of co-workers by filling out a card that is later scanned for analysis of workplace behaviours. A software program allows supervisors to track incidents in three categories: incidents with losses, near misses and hazards. The program provides managers with field-level risk assessments.

“We can look at risk at the field level and say, ‘We are getting more reports from this area than from that area,’ so we know there’s more risk in one area than another,” Doyle says.

The program also allows supervisors to see where there are no hazard reports, so they can identify areas that may have been overlooked. They may then decide to send a safety team to that area to do a risk assessment.

“By having a live view of where hazards are in the system, it allows safety managers to change their operational view of the risks they’re faced with in the field,” Doyle says.

Employees have access to on-site health and wellness clinics as well as occupational health monitoring. Flu shot programs, hearing conservation, exercise stress tests, routine blood screening and pulmonic function testing are just some of the services available. Information is regularly provided on various health-related topics, such as nutrition and the effects of UV rays. Offshore workers have access to a health centre staffed by a full-time health professional.

Emergency response plans are practised weekly to ensure 120 employees can be removed by lifeboats within 20 minutes. Fire and medical teams and control room operators conduct regular scenario-based drills.

“The culture is very important to everyone. I think it’s where we are,” Clarke says. “It’s important that people be on their game and participate in the safety program. We have to live here for three weeks at a time; it’s a second home. We want to make sure we get back to the other home.”