Alberta workers need better bear protection, Suncor 2014 investigation finds

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A provincial court judge made four recommendations to improve bear safety for workers after a woman was mutilated to death at an oil sands site in 2014.

Justice James Jacques drafted the recommendations after a public inquiry into the deaths held last June in Fort McMurray. His report was released on Monday.

In 2014, Lorna Weafer was an electrical and instrumentation technician working at a Suncor jobsite known as La Bodega, north of Fort McMurray.

At around 2 p.m. on May 7 of the same year, the 36-year-old was fatally maimed by a large male cinnamon-colored black bear as he walked from a bathroom to a store.

Weafer cried out for help, and his colleagues tried to chase the bear away as the bear dragged him into the nearby forest. Colleagues were throwing stones, tongs and metal bars, but “did not dissuade him,” Jacques said in his report.

The plant’s emergency services team arrived and chased the bear away with a water cannon.

“By this time, it was obvious that Mrs. Weafer was no longer alive,” wrote Jacques.

The RCMP arrived and shot the bear with a rifle as he attempted to return to Weafer’s body.

The bear’s behavior and the autopsy showed it to be a predatory attack, Jacques said in his report.

He noted that there had been two more bear sightings in the area the previous month.

Several preventative measures were discussed during the investigation, including bear education, personal deterrents, the use of firearms, electrified fencing and provincial bear safety standards.

Jacques made four recommendations:

  • Make bear safety training mandatory for people working in areas close to bear habitats, even if they are not working in the forest.
  • Introduce electric fences when possible to prevent bears from interacting with people.
  • Workers in high risk areas should be trained and given deterrents such as bear spray.
  • The province should consider introducing bear safety standards for the industry.

Firearms would create other dangers: judge

At the time Weafer was attacked, there were no guns available to his colleagues.

Jacques spoke about the use of firearms in his report. He wrote that there are additional dangers associated with using a gun, such as accidentally hitting the victim.

“It would require excellent marksmanship or a very close approach to the animal, and anyone attempting to do so would undoubtedly feel a great deal of responsibility,” the report said.

During the investigation, Weafer’s father said that an attacked person wanted someone to try and kill the bear with a gun.

Jacques wrote that having at least one armed person at each Suncor site “would create its own security risks … In an operation as large as the Suncor plant, this option is not feasible.”

The judge also explored the possibility of having a weapon locked in place, instead of an armed guard. But he said it would create “logistical problems”.

There should be a trained employee at each site, responsible for the keys to the weapon and ammunition. This would “make the security problems even worse,” Jacques wrote.

The judge said he was unable to make recommendations regarding the use of firearms in the context of the incident that led to Weafer’s death.

Since Weafer’s death, Suncor has implemented and improved numerous wildlife protocols, Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said on Monday.

This includes hiring an on-site wildlife contractor for bear surveillance and monitoring, extending safety training, and introducing wildlife advisories and alerts, said Seetal.

Some employees wear bear spray. Fences are also installed in some areas where possible.

Seetal said there had been no other mutilations or incidents with bears since 2014.

“Our top priority is always the safety of our employees,” said Seetal.

In an email, Joseph Dow, press secretary to Minister of Labor Tyler Shandro, said there had been “no potentially serious incidents, reportable incidents or workers’ compensation claims in the past. last five years concerning bears “.

Many employers in the Wood Buffalo area have bear safety protocols in place that align with workplace health and safety laws, Dow said.


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