Canada’s Suncor Energy on Nov. 3 outlined steps it is taking to improve safety at oil sands operations in northern Alberta, after a string of fatalities in the last two years that led to the resignation of the company’s CEO.

Interim CEO Kris Smith promised to improve Suncor's poor safety and operational record when he took over following former CEO Mark Little’s resignation in July. Five employees and contractors have died in accidents at Suncor sites since 2019, by far the worst safety record among oil sands companies.

Smith on Nov. 3 said Suncor, the second-largest oil producer in Canada, was reducing its contractor workforce in the mining and upgrading business by 20%, installing collision awareness technology on more than 1,000 pieces of mobile mining equipment and increasing training for team leaders.

“My priority has been to remove distractions from the organization and to focus our employees on safe reliable operations and our biggest opportunities,” Smith said on a third-quarter earnings call.

Lianne Lefsrud, assistant professor of engineering safety and risk management at the University of Alberta, said using contractors could impact safety by fragmenting the reporting structure, training and standard operating procedures on a site.

“You may have 10 companies with very different cultures and 10 very different understandings of how work is done around here,” she said. “It complicates operations because you're not necessarily all reading from the same songbook.”

Suncor on Nov. 2 reported an adjusted profit of CA$2.57 billion (US$1.87 billion) in the third quarter as a result of high global oil prices. However, the company booked a net loss due to an impairment charge related to its Fort Hills oil sands mine, which has struggled with operational issues.

Suncor shares were last up 3.3% on the Toronto Stock Exchange at CA$48.22 on Nov. 3.