BURNABY (NEWS1130) – It’s all about preventing future tragedies. The jury at the coroners’ inquest into the deaths of three mushroom farm workers in Langley has come back with its recommendations.

After all-day deliberations, the jury made a total of 15 recommendations to three agencies – 11 to WorkSafeBC, three to the Ministry of Environment and one to BC Ambulance Services.

The jury wants WorkSafeBC to initiate a program of random and surprise inspections for employers in high-risk sectors. Also, to ensure all confined spaces and hazardous areas are marked with signage in various languages.

The jury is asking for an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation to require agricultural workers, managers and owners complete a two-day training course on workplace safety. WorkSafeBC should also increase the number of prevention officers and agricultural inspectors.

The jury wants the Farm and Ranch Safety Association to work with WorkSafeBC in setting up a Confined Space Centre of Excellence to provide best-practice information in relation to risks involved with confined spaces and procedures to minimize those risks.

For the BC Ambulance Service, the jury recommends each ambulance be equipped with an atmosphere test meter.

The Ministry of Environment is being asked to require a registered professional engineer to supervise and approve the design and construction of new mushroom composting facilities.  They also are being told to be more proactive in enforcing their regulations and assisting municipalities in dealing with violators.

Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labour says as a whole, if the recommendations are fully implemented, they will help bring BC farms in to the 21st century.

“They are important; they put the accountability back on the employer, they require the employer to report every year whether they are in compliance with Occupational Health and Safety standards,” he explains.

He adds that will make it difficult for employers to claim they didn’t know the risks on their properties.

Sinclair likes the recommendations and says they need to be implemented quickly. “If the WCB (WorkSafeBC) does not move immediately to do this then this won’t save a life at all.  It will be simply be a nice piece of paper and a waste of time by all of us.”

He remains disappointed the farm owners will not go to prison, suggesting they will also avoid fines through bankruptcy.

The recommendations come after three workers died and two were left with crippling brain injuries after toxic gas seeped out of a clogged pipe they were trying to clear in a small shed on the farm in September 2008. Ut Van Tran, 35, Han Pham, 47, and Chi Wai (Jimmy) Chan, 55, all died, while two other workers survived, but suffered permanent brain damage.

Victims’ families satisfied with the jury’s proposals

“Our family is tremendously happy right now.  We’re just glad that this has come through and after four years, we can get a good night’s rest,” says Tracey Phan.  She’s the daughter of Michael Phan who was left permanently disabled by the toxic gas created by mushroom composting at the Langley farm.

Meanwhile 11-year-old Pearl Tran says the most important thing now is protecting other farm workers.

“I can’t wish for him to come back, but I can wish for this to never happen again to any other families,” says Tran, who lost her father Ut Van Tran.

Still, it doesn’t take her pain away. “He was the best dad I could ever wish for.”

NDP labour critic pleased with recommendations, but remains worried

Raj Chouhan likes the recommendations of random farm inspections done by WorkSafeBC and requirements for owners to provide signage in different languages for workers.

However, he doesn’t want a repeat of what happened after an inquest into the deaths of farm workers in a roadside accident back in 2003; he wants to see new policies put in place right away.

“The inquest came down with several recommendations; some of them were never accepted by the government and those that were accepted were not enforced on time,” explains Chouhan, referring to the delay in implementing measures.

“I sincerely hope the government will not wait because otherwise what’s the point of having these recommendations? We can have the best law in the world [but] if we don’t enforce it, it’s useless,” adds Chouhan.

He feels there should be more emphasis on accident prevention and safety awareness; not just for the agriculture sector, but other industries as well.

Throughout the inquest, the jury heard testimony from family members, the owners of the farm, WorkSafeBC, BC Federation of Labour, and Township of Langley.