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Blueberry farm neglected to report worker injury

RICHMOND, B.C. (Canadian OH&S News)


RICHMOND, B.C. (Canadian OH&S News)

A blueberry farm in British Columbia was issued 18 orders stemming from an unreported incident involving a severe worker injury on the farm four months ago.

The orders were issued after WorkSafeBC conducted an inspection of Purewal Brothers Enterprises Ltd., in Pitt Meadows, B.C., following media reports that a workplace incident was kept under wraps.

“CBC brought this matter to our attention from an enforcement perspective and we followed up immediately with an inspection,” said Donna Freeman, spokesperson for the safety regulator in Richmond, B.C.

The employer’s failure to notify the safety regulator more than three months after the incident was in contravention of the Workers’ Compensation Act Section 172(1)(a), which required an employer to immediately notify the board of the occurrence of any incident resulting in a serious injury to or the death of a worker.

“Board policy requires the consideration of imposing an administrative penalty for an employer’s non-compliance with the occupational health and safety requirements in the act and regulations,” a WorkSafeBC inspection report noted on Aug. 7.

On April 29, 10 workers were out in the field applying herbicide using a boom-mounted spray applicator towed by a tractor when the spray applicator tipped, severely injuring one of the workers. The employer representative, who was at the processing plant at the time of the incident, responded and transported the worker to the processing plant in a van. The first aid attendant was notified after the injured worker was taken back to the processing plant, which took approximately half an hour.

The first aid attendant, who was designated to administer first aid to the workers in the field, was working at the production plant located some distance away, making it impossible for him to respond within 10 minutes in the event of an incident. “This is evidence the employer had not ensured adequate and appropriate first aid services were in place at the time of the incident to promptly render first aid,” the report concluded.

Charan Gill, chief executive officer of Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society in Surrey, B.C., said he is handling the claim on behalf of the injured worker. Gill reported the injured worker, who had worked on the farm for several years, inhaled some pesticide when the spray applicator toppled and dislocated his knee.

“The ambulance came two hours later and he was in serious pain. He was unconscious for a while,” Gill said, noting the lack of proper first aid administration.

The slew of orders cited the employer’s failure to demonstrate workers had been provided with instruction, training and supervision to do their work safely; failure to immediately conduct an investigation into the cause of the incident; failure to keep up-to-date written procedures for providing first aid at the worksite; and failure to provide evidence of records of new worker orientation and training provided to field workers, among others.

The workers were also issued half-face respirators that had not been fit-tested to ensure an effective seal, according to procedures described in the Canadian Standards Association’s CSA Z94.4-02. A worker also reported that single strap dust masks, which did not have the required approval from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Washington, D.C., were worn on the day of the incident.

“Workers may not be adequately protected from airborne hazards when provided with respirators that do not fit properly, have not been approved by NIOSH or another recognized agency, or do not seal adequately,” the report stated.

Immigrant workers more at risk of injury

Information from Health and Safety Ontario noted that vulnerable workers may be exposed to more injuries and illnesses than other workers due to their lack of experience, communication barriers and the type of work they do.

Andrew McKenzie, a Vancouver-based safety advisor with FIOSA-MIOSA Safety Alliance BC, which addresses oh&s issues in the food and beverage processing sector, said the industry has a high proportion of foreign workers and concerns surrounding their workplace safety have been a bone of contention for years.

“Because they are migrant workers, they don’t know their rights and responsibilities,” McKenzie said, adding that foreign workers are also more likely to put up with unfavourable or unsafe work conditions out of fear of losing their jobs. “What ends up happening is that they are afraid to speak out.”

On the language issue, Freeman said WorkSafeBC provides publications and website information in numerous languages. The safety regulator also uses Language Line, a service that provides immediate interpretation in 170 languages to employers and workers that the organization deals with in the field and through claims processes, she added.

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