National News

Woman killed by bear was with other workers

By The Canadian Press

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - A union official says a woman killed by a bear at one of Canada's major oilsands sites was with several workers who tried to scare the animal away.

The 36-year-old Suncor employee was an instrument technician, who was doing electrical work at a job site near Fort McMurray, Alta., when the bear attacked her Wednesday.

"It was ... seven people that were working in a group area and she was attacked by this bear out of that group and dragged off," Scott Doherty, a spokesman for Unifor, told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

"People tried to stop it and do everything they could. Obviously they are fairly horrified at what they saw and witnessed."

Doherty said the union does not believe the workers were carrying bear spray. He said they remained in the area until police and wildlife officers arrived.

Another union official said the woman's co-workers blasted air horns to scare the bear away, but to no effect.

RCMP killed an adult black bear in the area and tests were being done to determine whether it is the same animal that mauled the woman.

Alberta occupational health and safety said companies that operate in the region have protocols to try to prevent such attacks.

Doherty said there needs to be a full review of what happened.

"We need to be part of the investigation and review what took place there," he said.

"If there needs to be a revision or some additional procedures and policies in place to ensure the safety of workers from wildlife attacks, we are definitely going to do that."

Black bears are common in Alberta and it's the time of year when they come out of hibernation and look for food. Average adult males can weigh as much as 200 kilograms.

The animals have been a problem in northeastern Alberta in the past. In 2011, wildlife officers destroyed 145 black bears, including animals attracted to garbage near work camps.

For the last few years an energy industry group has been holding an annual seminar on bear safety in Fort McMurray.

The next "BearSmart" workshop is scheduled for June 4. It involves Alberta government bear experts and includes talks on the best way to prevent encounters between bears and people.

People who have attended the meetings have included work camp managers and officials with oilsands companies that operate in the area.

An Alberta government document on bears says the animals are attracted to the smell of human-produced garbage and other waste, including petroleum products.

Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said it's not known if there had been recent bear sightings before the attack.

She said the company offers wildlife training to employees and was reminding people to be especially vigilant.

"This is an absolutely tragic event," Seetal said.

The union said this is the third work fatality in four months at the Suncor site.

— By John Cotter in Edmonton

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