British Columbia

Mushroom farm coroner's jury urges training, inspections

A B.C. coroner's jury has made 15 recommendations following an inquest into the deaths of three workers at a Langley mushroom farm.

Better equipment, more training and more inspectors called for

The jury at a B.C.’s coroner’s inquest has made 15 recommendations following an inquest into the deaths of three workers at a Langley mushroom farm in 2008.

The recommendations, which are not binding, include two-day training courses for workers and owners of businesses that operate in confined spaces, and random inspections of farms.

The jury also called on the B.C. Ministry of Environment to amend regulations regarding construction of composting facilities and regulations surrounding air circulation at such locations.

WorkSafeBC should increase the number of inspectors and prevention officers it employs, the five-person jury said.

It also recommended that BC Ambulance Service be equipped with atmospheric testing equipment for hazardous materials situations.

NDP labour critic Raj Chouhan said the recommendations are good, but he wonders if the provincial government will accept and enforce them.

Chouhan, the founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers Union, said farmworkers are still waiting for the government to act on inquest recommendations made after three people died and 14 were injured in the crash of an overloaded farm van in the Fraser Valley in 2007.

Families of the victims say the inquest findings finally give them some closure, and they are pleased with the call for mandatory safety training because, currently, such training is voluntary.

Tracey Phan, whose father was seriously injured in the workplace accident, said "This is definitively going to make a change."

But Jim Sinclair, the president of the BC Federation of Labour said noted the recommendations still have to be acted on.

"If they're not implemented, it's a piece of paper and it's not worth anything," said Sinclair.

'Built to fail'

In the Langley incident, three men died and two others suffered severe brain damage after being overcome by toxic gas in a composting shed at the mushroom farm nearly four years ago.

Ut Tran, 35, Han Pham, 47, and Chi Wai Chan, 55, died within moments of entering a pump shed where toxic gas had accumulated in September 2008. Two other workers survived but suffered permanent and severe brain damage in the incident.

The coroner had determined the men died accidentally of "acute cerebral anoxia" due to exposure to an "asphyxial environment."

The workers had been trying to unclog a pipe in a composting tank which released a cloud of hydrogen sulfide that suffocated the men.

A WorkSafeBC witness said the men had no idea what they were doing or the extent of the danger posed by the procedure.

Three operators of A-1 Mushroom Substratum were fined $350,000 after pleading guilty to 10 of 29 charges linked to the death of three workers.

The seven-day inquest heard that the farm was poorly planned and "built to fail." 

Due to several instances of the company's non-compliance with regulations, authorities had previously scheduled the facility to shut down the day after the three workers died.


With files from the CBC's Aarti Pole