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Mar 30

Why is the Coalition important to ConocoPhillips?

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Throughout the month of March, we’ve highlighted the history of the Coalition on our Facebook page. Along with CEDA, Devon Canada, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, ConocoPhillips Canada has been a staunch supporter ever since our inception. Through economic ups and downs, our founding members have shown an unwavering commitment to safety. We recently sat down with Ben Way, Manager – Business Improvement at ConocoPhillips Canada (CPC), and current Chairman of the Board for the Coalition for a Safer 63 & 881 to ask him why the Coalition is so important to CPC, and to him personally.


Imagine you are talking to someone who’s never heard of the Coalition. How would you describe the Coalition and what it does?

The Coalition is a group of like-minded, concerned individuals who are tired of people losing their lives on Highway 63 and 881. We’re so tired of it that we’re willing to do something about it. We are willing to join industry, government, surrounding communities and anyone else who is looking to make a difference to improve the safety of our roads together.

Why was the Coalition started?

Back in 2009, the number of fatalities on Highway 63 and 881 was already staggering. CPC had plans for large-scale expansion, as we were about to begin the Surmont Phase 2 project. This project would bring thousands of people up to the Surmont site in the Fort McMurray region. We were concerned about the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors and those in the surrounding communities, due to this increase in traffic on the highways.

The situation was not going to improve by itself and we recognized that. We needed to create a joint effort between industry, government, RCMP, businesses and communities in the area. We knew what was coming and we had to do something about it. We couldn’t allow more fatalities to happen – action was needed.

Through all this, CPC defined what success for Surmont Phase 2 would look like. If we were to safely build this world-class facility, on time and under budget, that could certainly define success. But if our people and others were going to continue to get injured, or even potentially die, by travelling these dangerous highways simply to get to and from work and we did nothing about it…that would mean we’d failed. We needed to take action in order to improve what we saw happening on these highways.

Why is it such an important initiative for CPC, and for you personally to be a part of?

Historically, some people have felt that the work our industry does is inherently unsafe and injuries and accidents are inevitable.  I don’t agree with that, and neither does ConocoPhillips. And I also don’t believe that people should have to be put in a dangerous position just to get to and from their work. The numbers don’t lie. The injury and fatality rates for Highway 63 and 881 were off the scale compared to other highways.  I couldn’t be a safety leader on-site and then ignore the safety risks our people and others were facing on those highways; I had to be part of the solution. The bottom line? People are the most important resource we have. Not just our employees, but our community members and partners. A piece of equipment can be replaced.  A person can’t.

At CPC, we viewed what was happening on those highways as a tragedy. It was heartbreaking for me when I thought about the lives that were being lost. My personal involvement in the Coalition was about taking it even further. The organization was doing such important work and this was a great opportunity for me to engage with an issue that’s so imperative. It’s about saving lives, and positively impacting communities: how many times in your life do you have an opportunity to do something like that?

CPC’s motto sums it up really well. Our work is never so urgent or important that we cannot take time to do it safely and in an environmentally responsible manner.

What are some of your proudest moments as a Coalition member?

I’ve had a lot of these moments. Through many conversations, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the Coalition and the difference it has made for them personally. It’s moments like these that help me see the tangible benefit of what we are doing. We’re able to talk to people and hear how they’ve changed their driving behavior due to the work the Coalition is doing. These are some of the most meaningful moments for me.

I’m also proud of the strength and commitment of our membership. Even when we are at the very bottom of a nasty downturn in our industry, members continue to come back. That really makes me proud, proud to work for a company that walks the talk regarding safety.

What would you tell prospective members to encourage them to join?

There are a lot of different ways we can spend our time, or invest our resources, but it’s hard for me to think of an investment where you get the type of return that you get from the Coalition.

As a member, we get to see real benefits and real change as a result of our involvement. We have the ability to be a part of making that change a reality. The greatest benefit you’ll receive as a member is that you get to be a part of saving lives. How awesome is that? You get to impact people in the most powerful way possible. How many other opportunities do you get to do that?

Since the economic downturn and the twinning of Highway 63, traffic and fatalities on both Highway 63 and 881 have decreased. Why is it still important for organizations to support this initiative?

Until we reach a point where no one dies on these highways, our work is not done. And we are still far from that point. We still have a lot of work to do, especially on Highway 881. The twinning of Highway 63 has been completed, which is great, but we are learning from the RCMP that behaviours haven’t changed. We’ve made an infrastructure change to help reduce the risk, but there’s been an increase in dangerous behaviours such as speeding. So now the risk or type of risk has changed. It’s behaviour change we need to really focus on if we want to truly make Highway 63 fatality free.

Although we are in a downturn, we all know that commodity prices will improve with time. The highways will get extremely busy again, and we’ll see a lot of drivers on the highways that may not be properly equipped with the knowledge and focus needed to drive our highways safely. We have to be prepared; otherwise, I am sure we will see the fatality numbers go up. It’s not a problem we should save for someone else to manage. It’s a problem we know will come, which means it’s our responsibility as a big organization to be a leader on this issue.

Where do you see the Coalition headed over the next few years?

The Coalition will continue to look for strategic partnerships with industry, government and those who share our goal and want to make a difference. We also plan to continue coaching the workforce that we see growing. We need to ensure that we play a role in informing them appropriately regarding the dangers of these highways.

I’d like to move towards a setup that allows the Coalition to be more sustainable. Currently it takes a lot of time to accomplish everything we challenge ourselves to do. What we are trying to do is set the Coalition up through effective processes, connections and partnerships so that it’s something that can be passed on seamlessly once I, or other board members, move on to other endeavors.