The B.C. Coroners Service has announced it will hold an inquest into the asphyxiation of three workers who died on a Langley mushroom farm in September of 2008.
Ut Tran, Han Pham and Chi Wai (Jimmy) Chan perished within moments of entering a pump shed where toxic gas had accumulated.
Two other workers who entered the shed, Michael Phan and Thang Tchen, survived but suffered permanent, severe brain damage.
In November, Ha Qua Truong and his wife Van Thi Troung along with Thinh Huu Doan and the companies they operate — A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. and H.V. Truong Ltd. — were fined $350,000 by a Surrey Provincial Court judge after pleading guilty to 10 of 29 charges.
In a written statement, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said that after reviewing all the information available in the case, including the WorkSafeBC report on the tragedy, she concluded “there is benefit to holding an inquest to examine some of the broader circumstances of the incident in an attempt to prevent future deaths from happening in similar circumstances.”
The inquest is scheduled for May 7, 2012, at the Coroners Court in Burnaby under presiding coroner Norm Leibel.
A jury will hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses to determine the facts surrounding the deaths but may not, by law, make any findings of fault or legal responsibility.
It can make recommendations designed to prevent similar deaths in the future.
The workers at the A-1 Mushroom farm on 16 Avenue were exposed to a lethal level of hydrogen sulphide gas while trying to unclog a pipe inside an enclosed pump shed.
The incident occurred when a butterfly valve became plugged with chicken manure, straw and gypsum in the pump house that managed the flow of fresh and used water.
The owners had a shed built around the pumps to prevent them from freezing in the winter.
It had no proper exits or ventilation.
A WorkSafeBC report said the deaths could have been prevented had proper regulation been followed.
A-1 Mushroom did not have a health and safety program for any of their operations.
Employees were not educated on possible dangers nor were they provided with proper safety equipment.
B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair welcomed the announcement, saying it gives hope of a legacy of greater safety on British Columbia farms.
“Many things went wrong in the lead up to the tragedy and as the tragedy unfolded,” said Sinclair.
“A Coroner’s Inquest will help us understand what went wrong, and what can be done to make farming safer.”
Provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix called it “positive news for the families of the victims.”
Dix said an inquest is the best way to truly find out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again.
NDP labour critic Raj Chouhan said WorkSafe B.C.’s own report into the tragedy showed that, on repeated occasions, the agency failed to enforce health and safety rules or follow up on local municipal concerns that would have stopped the disaster.
This inquest will provide an arms-length examination into why the agency responsible for ensuring safe workplaces failed to take appropriate actions that would have kept these farmworkers alive and able to support their families” Chouhan said.
“The recommendations that will come out of this will help to create safer working conditions for agricultural workers across B.C.”