Editorial — Safety must come first

The details of the horrible tragedy at a Langley mushroom farm on Sept. 5, 2008 finally emerged last week, as the owners of the farm were in court after pleading guilty to numerous health and safety charges.

Three workers died and two others suffered permanent brain damage. They were asked to go into a confined space to clear the blockage in a valve containing the chicken manure, straw and gypsum, which are used to make mushroom compost.

This came after the farm owners had called a plumber to the scene. He was unable to fix the blockage and asked them to call a sewer pumping service.

Instead, the job fell to the workers, As outlined in court, they were never given any information on working in confined spaces, nor was there any occupational health and safety training offered.

A mushroom farm, particularly one where composting takes place, has many hazards — far more than most workplaces. A variety of machinery is used on a daily basis. There are confined spaces. Some of the materials handled are, or can be, dangerous.

Many of the people who work on such farms, in Langley and elsewhere in the Fraser Valley,. are relatively new immigrants to Canada. They often get the jobs because they have limited job prospects and have some connections to the farm owners. They are also willing to work for low wages at jobs which involve hard physical labour.

It is absolutely essential that anyone who hires other people to work in a business offer basic occupational health and safety training. It is also important that when there are hazards, such as confined spaces, employees be fully familiar with the dangers involved. They need to know when they can say “no.”

The B.C. Federation of Labour has taken a major interest in this case and deserves credit for highlighting the importance of emplopyers following basic safety practices.

Farm workers are just as valuable as any employee on any job site. This case points out the need to ensure they fully understand all the risks of any job they are asked to perform.

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