Jason Mercer has operated heavy equipment in mines for more than two decades, with the last 17 years at the Aurora mine, about 75 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray, Alta.

And the straight-talking miner sees Suncor’s new collision awareness system as “a game changer” for safety in the mines.
“Given the size of the equipment, some of the tasks we perform and the operating conditions, this new system is, by far, one of the best things I’ve seen during my time in mining,” says Jason, a frontline leader who now coaches operators at the mine.
A big reason why Jason and other operators being trained on the system like it is because of its simplicity. Daryl Fridd, the project’s program lead, said Suncor reviewed several different options before selecting a global vendor with proven technology. 

“It is the newest version of their GPS-based system. It is housed in a kit, which includes an antenna, mounted on the vehicle. This system communicates its position to other equipped vehicles. The system displays this to the operator on a small screen,” says Daryl, who has worked in Suncor mining for 22 years. “The operator sees other vehicles nearby, the vehicle type and how many metres they are away from the vehicle. Based on the vehicle’s speed and direction of travel, the system will trigger a visual and audible alert if it detects a potential collision risk.”

Suncor started installing the system on mine vehicles and equipment at Aurora, Mildred Lake and Fort Hills last year. Installs began at Base Plant in 2023.  

Inside the cab of a vehicle. There is a steering wheel and a dashboard and a small screen on the dash that displays the collision awareness system.
The collision awareness system is seen as a “game changer” in mine safety. The display for the system sits in the cab and alerts the operator when it detects the potential for a collision risk.

“We are installing it in phases at all our mines. The intent is that the collision awareness system will eventually be installed on every piece of equipment or vehicle that enters our mines,” Daryl says. “Is does not replace existing controls such as operator training, operating procedures or access restrictions for the mine. It’s another layer to improve operator situational awareness.”

And Brian Vanzetta, who has operated heavy equipment at Fort Hills since 2017, appreciates what he has seen.

“It’s very user-friendly because it’s easy to understand,” says Brian, one of the operators who has been training with the new system. “Whether you run a haul truck, grader or dozer, there are blind spots. This is a tool that will tell you if you are at risk if you can’t see something.”

And mine roads are very dynamic given the distinct types of equipment and operating conditions.

“Dust can limit visibility in the summer, and you’ll get steam in the winters, especially when it gets to be -30 C or lower and it’s dark for most of the day,” says Brian, who has operated mining equipment for almost a decade. “It’s not busy like the Deerfoot Trail in Calgary or the 401 near Toronto during rush hour, but you have different types and sizes of vehicles with operators who have various levels of experience.”

Installing the system on more than 1,000 pieces of mining equipment and vehicles represents a significant investment.

Brian appreciates the investment made into helping keep Suncor’s mines safer for operators and their equipment.

“My goal every shift at Fort Hills is to get home safe and see my family in Fort McMurray. This technology is going to help with that.”