The four major employers in Canada’s oil sands say their efforts to standardize safety practices on their sites are paying off.
The four – Syncrude, Suncor, Shell Albian and Canadian Natural Resources – banded together in 2003. They invited volunteers from oil sands worker groups, labour unions, independent contractors and training providers to join them to work together towards “an incident free workforce.” The resulting organization – the Oil Sands Safety Association, or OSSA – is aiming for a zero-incident workplace safety record.
The focused approach seems to be producing results. Figures provided by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) show injury rates in the oil sands sector down 24% between 2007 and 2010. There were two oil sands fatalities in 2010, the same as in 2009, but down from 5 in 2008.
“We’ve made great strides,” says Sheila Bailey, a Calgary health, safety and environmental consultant. Bailey, a mechanical engineer who has developed some training modules designed for oil sands employees, is president of Bailey Technical Services, previously based in Fort McMurray, Alta..
She says the thrust towards unified safety training grew out of a sense that contract workers moving between different oil sands sites received orientation and training at each site – a cumbersome and sometimes confusing process. Now everyone in the industry is reading from the same page with regard to safety, and all workers arrive ready to work with their safety orientation and training already begun.
Anyone seeking work in the oil sands now has to take two steps before they can even report for work at an oil sands site:
- Take the OSSA Orientation to familiarize themselves with procedures common to all four OSSA member corporations
- Pass a four-hour online CSTS (Construction Safety Training System)
The 17-module CSTS course covers hazardous materials, transportation of dangerous goods, emergency response routines, environmental factors, personal protective equipment and workplace law.
Beyond that, OSSA has also overseen development of more intensive and standardized training in four key areas of safety of concern to oil sands work sites:
- Confined Space Practices
- Elevated Work Platform Safety
- Fire Watch Standards
- Fall Protection
Employers are also aiming for standardized practices within the work sites – things as simple as alarm sounds and practices for summoning emergency assistance, to ensure that nothing falls between the cracks in terms of safety awareness.
“Safety is top-of-mind for oil sands employers,” says Bailey. They’re aiming for world class safety status.”