Suncor Interim CEO's Top Priority Is To Fix Oil Major's Poor Safety Record

"Our safety record is unacceptable, and improvements must be made," Kris Smith said.

Source: Chris Wattie/Reuters

Interim Suncor Energy chief executive Kris Smith said on 5 August that his first priority on the job is to fix the oil major’s track record on safety and operating performance.

Smith faced a number of pointed questions about the company’s poor safety record during a quarterly conference call with investors — his first since taking the helm in July following the abrupt resignation of former CEO Mark Little after another worker was killed at Suncor’s base plant in northern Alberta.

“Safety is the most important value at Suncor, and our safety record is unacceptable, and improvements must be made,” Smith said. “This was brought home by the recent death at our base plant site in the mine area. I want to express how deeply saddened we are by this loss. And I am fully committed to doing everything necessary to build a better safety culture and improve performance so that everyone at Suncor goes home safely each and every day.”

The company has come under intense scrutiny since last spring when activist investor Elliott Investment Management publicly targeted Suncor over its financial and operational performance. A key criticism levelled by Elliott at the company was its poor track record on safety, including five workplace fatalities since 2020.

Little resigned on 8 July, the day after a 26-year-old contract worker was struck by equipment and killed at the company’s base mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The death marked the 13th fatality for the company since 2014.

The company has since completed independent safety assessments of its worksites, and Smith said that Suncor is working to accelerate its safety improvement plan. He told investors that the company had assembled an operational risk management team and made a number of changes to senior leadership in the oilsands and downstream businesses. The company is also in the process of deploying collision avoidance and fatigue management technologies.

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