Recommendations would protect farm workers, says NDP critic

"The recommendation that each farm worker receive two days of health and safety training has to be implemented," says NDP labour critic.

It is now up to the B.C. government and WorkSafe BC on whether it will implement some or all 15 recommendations a coroner’s jury made Wednesday, to help prevent future deaths of mushroom farm workers.

“In the House, I asked the labour minister when she would be looking at these recommendations and she claims she is already working on them,” said NDP labour critic Raj Chouhan.

He said each of the 15 recommendations are so important for protecting farm workers. Chouhan is the former president of the Canadian Farm Workers Union.

In September 2008, three mushroom composting farm workers in Langley unclogged a pipe stuffed with straw and chicken manure and water while inside a confined space. The unclogging released hydrogen sulfide that killed farm workers Ut Tran, 35, Han Pham, 47, and Chi Wai Jimmy Chan, 57. The discharge of toxic fumes also permanently injured Tchen Pham and Michael Phan.

“The recommendation that each farm worker receive two days of health and safety training has to be implemented right now,” he said of the recommendations.

He also believes signage about safety should be put up around each farm, in the language spoken by the workers.

“Then there is no excuse for an employer to plead ignorance as was the case at this mushroom farm.”

Chouhan also asked the government to strengthen penalties in order to deter employers from putting workers at risk. He said that this tragedy exemplifies serious negligence on the part of an employer and demonstrates the need to find a way to deliver stronger consequences than the kind of fines levied on employers in this case.

“There is no deterrence in a fine as seen with this case, where the employer just claimed bankruptcy,” he said.

Labour Minister Margaret McDiarmid said she is ready to take action on some of the recommendations but some may prove difficult to implement. WorkSafe BC told the media on Thursday that implementing two day safety courses for all farm workers in B.C. would prove too big of a job.

The government doesn’t have the best record for implementing coroner jury recommendations.

After two Kimberly paramedics were killed from lack of oxygen when trying to rescue a man from a mine’s confined space, recommendations were made for all ambulances to be equipped with an atmosphere test meter that could test the levels of oxygen in an area.

While this recommendation seems an easy solution, it never was implemented and it was on the mushroom farm jury’s list of recommendations as well.

Chouhan said the family testimony was “heart wrenching” and a testament of why these recommendations have to be implemented now.

“These workers were the primary breadwinners for 13 children. They have struggled emotionally and financially in the aftermath” said NDP leader Adrian Dix.

These widows all testified that they struggle financially and are each paid about $2,000 per month from WorkSafe BC, Canadian Pension and other work related payouts.

The Langley Farm Workers fund has been set up at Community Savings Credit Union. Donations can be made at branches in Vancouver and Victoria.