Blog Post #481 – Charges in Farming Deaths

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

Twenty-nine charges have been laid against two companies and four individuals after three workers were killed at a British Columbia mushroom farm in 2008.

Charges under the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations were laid on August 30, 2010. The charges are against A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. and H.V. Truong Ltd. as employers; Ha Quan Truong as a company owner, director and supervisor; Thinh Huu Doan as a supervisor; Vy Tri Truong as a director; and Van Thi Truong as a company owner and director.

On September 5, 2008, workers at an industrial mushroom farm in Langley, British Columbia were attempting to fix an electric motor that powered a pump in a confined space. One of the pump’s flanges was disconnected from the system and released gas, believed at the time to be hydrogen sulphide. Three workers died, and two were severely injured. Farming deaths, such as these should never happen.

British Columbia’s Criminal Justice Branch notes that the deaths and injuries were the result of workers being “over- come by gas in an enclosed space.”

New Democrat MLA Raj Chouhan reports that one of the injured workers is now in a wheelchair and unable to hear or speak, while the other survivor has been in a coma since the accident.

The occupational health and safety counts allege these failures:

• ensure workers were made aware of known or reasonably foreseeable hazards to which they were likely to be exposed during their work;

• provide workers with information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure their health and safety and that of other workers;

• ensure all confined spaces were identified, that related hazards were eliminated or minimized, and that work was performed in a safe manner;

• conduct a hazard assessment for the confined space;

• prepare and implement a written confined space entry program; and,

• assign supervision or responsibility to an adequately trained supervisor.

Although unable to discuss the details of its investigation, Donna Freeman, director of media relations for WorkSafeBC in Richmond, British Columbia, says that it was lengthy and complicated. “Our officers would probably describe it as probably the most complex investigation in our history. There have been in the area of 25 different personnel, from investigating officers to engineering staff to case officers, working on this over the period since the event in 2008,” Freeman reports.

Chouhan, founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers Union in 1980, says he is pleased that charges have been laid, but would like to see more regular and rigorous government enforcement to prevent further accidents. “We have to make sure that training, that monitoring, that enforcement is there at the workplace, not only in the agriculture industry, in other industries as well.”

Chouhan says farming “has become much more commercialized, it has become much more industrialized [and] more new machinery and equipment has been introduced.” Not enough emphasis has been placed on training workers to safely use new technology, he argues.

My opinion,

Ontario regulation 632/05 is now the standard for Confined Space Entry in Ontario. It was deemed necessary as the 4 sector regulations had their own requirements so a central regulation was created to put to an end any discrepancy that may be out there.

No one is allowed to enter a confined space unless a permit has been issued and all the possible hazards have been properly identified, assessed and controlled. Ventilation during an entry, especially if there is any chance to be overcome by hydrogen sulphide, (dangerous at 10ppm) is mandatory, before, during and after entry.

It is my sincere wish that WorkSafeBC in British Columbia, after this criminal act by the employer, drove changes in legislation to protect all workers at A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. and anyone else in or around a confined space.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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