Call for inquest into Langley mushroom farm tragedy

Labour Day was third anniversary of workplace accident that killed three and injured two

Relatives of the victims of a 2008 gas leak at a Langley mushroom farm. L to R: Tracey Phan

Relatives of the victims of a 2008 gas leak at a Langley mushroom farm. L to R: Tracey Phan

It’s been three years since three men died and two suffered critical brain injuries at a South Langley mushroom farm.

The third anniversary of the Sept. 5 tragedy at 23751 16 Ave. was marked this Labour Day Monday with a call for a coroner’s inquest by the B.C. Federation of Labour.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure this kind of accident is never repeated and that farmworkers are not exposed to unsafe working conditions,” said B.C. Fed president Jim Sinclair.

“Three years is far too long to wait.”

Sinclair said an inquest into the incident should be held as soon as possible following the Sept. 16 sentencing of the farm owners.

In May, a lawyer for the three people who operated two companies at the farm entered guilty pleas to 10 charges of violating provincial safety regulations.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, charges were dropped against a fourth person, Vy Tri Truong, who was among the four people originally charged last year following a 10-month investigation by WorkSafe B.C.

The remaining three accused, Van Thi Truong, Ha Qua Truong and Thinh Huu Doan, and the companies they operated (A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. and H.V. Truong Ltd.) pleaded guilty to 10 of the original 29 charges, including failing to have an occupational health and safety program in place, failing to educate workers about safety, failing to properly supervise workers and failing to make workers aware about confined space hazards.

They face a maximum fine of $600,000 and up to six months in jail.

One survivor, Tchen Phan, is in a wheelchair and cannot hear, talk, walk or remember what happened to him.

The other, Michael Phan, a Langley father of two, has been in a coma since the 2008 incident. When a pipe burst in a shed used to mix gypsum, chicken manure and water, it released noxious fumes that killed farmworkers Ut Tran (a Surrey resident), Han Pham and Jimmy Chan, and permanently injured Tchen Phan and Michael Phan.

All five victims were fathers of school-age children, 13 in all.

The B.C. Federation of Labour head said a coroner’s inquest is the best way for the public to learn what happened that day and what measures need to be introduced to prevent similar incidents.

“As we saw in the coroner’s inquest into the 2007 farm van crash that killed three women near Abbotsford, a coroner’s jury can produce informed recommendations that could go a long way towards making farm workers safer if they are implemented,” Sinclair said.

“A public inquiry is the best way to investigate and fix the health and safety abuses that we believe are widespread in the agricultural sector.”