The words no one wants to hear echoed across Suncor twice as 2020 came to an end and 2021 began: there’s been an incident and lives were lost.

On December 28, 2020, Taylor Dawe and Leslie Miller were killed during a routine shift change at our Fort Hills site, and before the healing could even begin, another life was taken when the dozer Patrick Poitras was operating fell through the ice at our Base Plant site taking his life on January 13, 2021.

As the days passed following these tragedies, many asked what went wrong and how such incidents could happen in the first place.

Incident investigations began immediately, but the urgency to understand what and how it all happened was felt throughout Suncor. 

Suncor is known as a safe place to work—a reputation that matters to us, to our employees and their families, our partners and our communities. And just as importantly, we need the families, loved ones and coworkers of the three contractors who died to know that these incidents are unacceptable, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure they don’t happen again.

“When a colleague dies in a workplace incident, it impacts everyone, regardless of their location or the company they work for,” says Jody Hood, general manager, Environment, Health and Safety at Suncor. “In times like this, we need to support each other by having a safe space for reflection and open dialogue on ways we can do better. That’s what our safety stand downs are meant to create.” 

In response and to honour the lives of Taylor, Leslie and Patrick, we have taken steps to improve safety at our sites:

Standing together

In January, employee safety events, called safety stand downs, were held across the company. These events brought leaders together with their teams to pause work, remember Taylor, Leslie, Patrick and others who lost their lives at work and reflect on our current safety performance. We also collectively reinforced our commitment to our core value of safety above all else.

Enlisting external experts

In February, a safety assessment team of external industry leaders who specialize in performance safety was brought in to review our safety systems and processes. As part of their work, they are engaging both senior leaders and frontline workers to identify potential causes that may contribute to workplace fatalities. 

“The intent of this review is not about finding fault,” says Dean Wilcox, senior vice president, Regional Services, Suncor. “We have reached out to experts who have a vast knowledge of leading safety approaches and can take an unbiased look at our operations to determine what is working well and where there are areas for improvement.” 

The assessment wrapped up at the end of March, and actions for continual improvement in safety performance will be shared soon. 

“Given the nature of our operations, it makes sense to share what we learn with others, especially if it could prevent another tragedy,” adds Jody. “Continuous improvement is critical to a safe work environment and we owe that level of care to each other, every day.”