Three people fined for 2008 B.C. mushroom farm deaths

The Globe and Mail – November 25, 2011

VANCOUVER – Two companies and three individuals who operated a Langley, B.C., mushroom farm have been fined a total of $350,000 after a 2008 incident that killed three men and left two more with irreparable brain damage.

The now-bankrupt A-1 Mushroom Substratum Ltd. was fined $200,000 and its owner, Thinh Huu Doan, received a $10,000 fine. But, because Mr. Doan’s company is bankrupt many expect the fines to go unpaid.

Ha Quan Truong and Van Thi Truong were fined $15,000 and $5,000 respectively. The brothers’ company, H.V. Truong Ltd., was also fined $120,000.

On Sept. 5, 2008, five Vietnamese-Canadian workers on the farm were overcome by toxic fumes after a pipe carrying a compost mixture broke inside an enclosed pump house.

Ut Tran, Jimmy Chan and Ham Pham died in the incident and Michael Phan and Thang Tchen both suffered severe brain damage.

The 15-year-old daughter of Mr. Phan said she was disappointed that the sentence did not include jail time.

“It’s life-changing to have someone as part of your normal, daily life and you wake up and they’re not there any more,” Tracey Phan said.

Her father remains in a coma more than three years after the incident.

The defendants pleaded guilty to ten charges last May after a 20-month-long WorkSafeBC investigation into safety practices at the farm. They faced a maximum fine of up to $618,000 and six months in jail.

The two companies and three supervisors were cited under provincial health and safety regulations for failure “to identify a confined space by a sign or other effective means which indicated the hazard and prohibited entry by unauthorized workers.”

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said that the sentence sends the wrong message to employers.

“If you drive down the street and kill someone through negligence then you’ll pay the price. But on the job site, the Crown prosecutor is still giving get out of jail free cards and there is virtually no consequences for workers dying on the job when it is the fault of the employer,” he said.

“There was no justice for the families today in this court. That’s extremely bad for not just these families but [for] all of British Columbia.”

New Democrat MLA Adrian Dix called for a coroner’s inquest to investigate workplace health and safety conditions in the agricultural sector. This case, he said, demonstrates the need to overhaul B.C.’s agricultural labour standards that are largely based on self-reporting.

“How can you expect … for employment standards to be self-administered by workers who don’t have the protection of a union and are expected to self-report?”

As originally published in the Globe and Mail