Editorial — Now it’s time to act

The province can make a difference in the mushroom industry, and in preventing future senseless tragedies.

The provincial government should move quickly to adopt the recommendations of the coroner’s jury which looked into the deaths of three mushroom farm workers in Langley in 2008.

The jury has recommended that Worksafe B.C. take a much more activist role in enforcing safety rules on farms, including surprise inspections. It also recommends that farm workers take two-day courses on occupational health and safety, including being made fully aware of the dangers of confined spaces.

These recommendations are not asking for the moon. In fact, they are merely stating that farm workplaces be treated in a similar fashion to other workplaces. There must be safety committees and proper training at other workplaces — why should farms somehow be allowed to evade this responsibility?

The inquest also pointed out the additional challenges faced when many farm workers do not understand English. They are limited in where they can find work, which in effect makes them indentured servants to a small group of employers. Employers in this situation have far more control over their lives than any employer should have.

This points out the necessity for immigrants to Canada to know some English (or French, in certain parts of the country) when arriving here, and the importance of boosting those language skills once they are here. Otherwise, they are at the mercy of employers — and some of them are far from scrupulous.

Another issue which arose from the inquest is a longstanding one in Langley — the issue of making compost on mushroom farms. This has been a problem in this community for years, and led to some attempts in the 1990s to stop the practice. However, the provincial right to farm act has made it difficult to completely stop this practice.

The province needs to bring in comprehensive rules about how mushroom compost is made. It should be made in a large, well-ventilated facility where the odours will not be offensive to neighbours, and where there is no chance of workers being overcome by the gas emitted.

The province can make a difference in the mushroom industry, and in preventing future senseless tragedies. The jury recommendations make that clear.

The ball is now firmly in the government’s court.