B.C. mushroom farm operators plead guilty to safety violations in deaths of three workers, injury to two others

No criminal charges laid after accident released toxic fertilizer gas; labour group calls for further investigation

The operators of a British Columbia mushroom farm where three men died on the job have pleaded guilty to charges brought under the province’s labour and health and safety laws.

On Sept. 5, 2008, five workers at A-1 Mushroom Substratum, a mushroom farm and composting plant in Langley, B.C., were overcome by toxic fumes in a fertilizer mixing shed when a pipe burst. Ut Tran, Jimmy Chan and Ham Pham died, while one of their co-workers, Tchen Phan, was left unable to speak or hear and another, Michael Phan, remains in a coma.

The employers, A-1 Mushroom Substratum and H.V. Truong Ltd., as well as company officials Ha Qua Truong, Van Thi Truong and Thinh Huu Doan, admitted to failing to ensure health and safety regulations were followed. Charges against Vy Tri Truong were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

The companies and the officials were charged with a total of 29 infractions under the B.C. Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, pleading guilty to 10 of the charges.

Investigators found that a pipe carrying a compost mixture of gypsum, chicken manure and water broke, releasing the toxic gas.

Two workers initially succumbed to the fumes while three others rushed to rescue them. One of those rescuers died along with the original victims and the remaining two suffered neurological damage.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, told the Canadian Press the families of the workers were angry that no criminal charges were laid as a result of the accident and the guilty pleas for violating labour laws will make them even more angry. The WorkSafeBC report from the investigation of the farm wasn’t released and Sinclair called for a coroner’s inquest to answer questions about why the farm hadn't been inspected.

“We found out no more about what happened and now they're talking about small fines for the employers? Completely outrageous under the circumstances,” Sinclair told the Canadian Press. “The message to employers is nothing will happen, even if you screw it up so badly that people die, and they lose their fathers and their wives.”

The companies and officials will be sentenced Sept. 16 and could face up to a $600,000 fine and six months in jail.

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