Coroner’s jury makes 15 recommendations on farm safety

The jury calls for increased inspection at farms and better training procedures.

A Coroner’s jury made 15 recommendations Wednesday, which could go towards preventing future mushroom farm workers’ deaths.

The majority of the recommendations involved WorkSafe BC, including increasing the number of agricultural inspectors and prevention officers. The jury would also like to see more random inspections, including asking to see employee training records.

The five jury members agreed with B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, recommending that all mushroom farm employees be required to complete a two-day course on occupational health and safety, including knowing about confined spaces.

Another recommendation was each ambulance be equipped with an atmosphere test meter. The jury also wants all farms to document and register all confined spaces with the government.

It also wants the Ministry of Environment to require active aeration of brown water tanks, and have an engineer supervise and approve design and construction.

A poorly-designed brown water tank on the south Langley farm allowed deadly gases to fill the confined space, killing three workers and permanently injuring two others at a mushroom composting farm in September, 2008.

Three mushroom composting farm workers unclogged a pipe stuffed with straw and chicken manure and water. It released noxious fumes that killed farmworkers Ut Tran 35, Han Pham, 47, and Chi Wai Jimmy Chan, 57. The discharge of toxic fumes permanently injured Tchen Pham and Michael Phan.

The inquest heard from an expert that had there been a wind that day, the extremely deadly gas could have killed many more on that farm. Testimony from experts said the poor design of the brown water shed was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Coroner’s Inquest heard that there was pressure on the families from their own community “to not make a fuss,” but family members testified anyway. All explained that there now-deceased husbands and fathers didn’t speak any English and were asked to work extra hours, but were not always paid for it. Most of them had looked for other work before being killed at A-1 Mushroom Farm.

Michael Phan’s wife Phoung Le spoke about her anger after the inquest was completed on Tuesday. Her husband was severely brain-damaged by the toxic fumes. The Phan family lived on the property when the accident occurred and she claims that the owner ordered her husband into the shed to help the three men who had already succumbed to the gases.

“These men may have passed away or have been injured but they have not been silenced,” said Le. “I want justice for this loss.”


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