HAMPSTEAD, Ont (Canadian OH&S News)
One of Ontario’s deadliest road accidents has put the spotlight on the dangerous transportation many farm workers take getting to and from the job.
Shortly before 5 pm on February 6, a 15-seat passenger van carrying 13 migrant agricultural workers collided with a flatbed truck in Hampstead, Ontario, about 20 kilometres northeast of Stratford, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) report in a statement.
Ten of the workers in the van and the driver of the truck were killed in the collision, and the three survivors were taken to hospital. Photos from the scene show the truck flipped upside down, well off the road, with the white van was resting against a house, its entire passenger side torn off.
Police said at a news conference held on February 8 that the van ran a stop sign and the driver, David Blancas, 45, was not licensed to drive a high-occupancy vehicle.
“The tragic fact of this investigation is that it was entirely preventable. This crash should cause all Ontarians to pause and seriously consider their own driving habits and immediately change them for the better,” chief superintendent John Cain, region commander of the OPP’s western region, said in a statement.
The workers in the van, aged 26 to 53, had just left a shift at a nearby poultry vaccination plant. The driver of the flatbed truck had worked for Speedy Transport Group, Inc in Brampton, Ontario, confirms company CEO Jared Martin.
Stan Raper, national co-ordinator of the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), says that Blancas was a Canadian resident, while the rest of the workers in the van were from Peru.
William Lin, a spokesman with the Ministry of Labour, says that the workers were employees of Marc Poultry & Vaccination Services.
For their part, the Workplace Safety Insurance Board says in a news release that they have established a special team to act on the incident and the workers and their families will “receive the support and assistance they need,” which could include funeral and burial expenses, financial support for surviving spouses and support for health care and recovery for the injured workers.
“Out of respect for the victims, and for all the men and women working in the agriculture sector, we will work to ensure that every factor in this accident is investigated to make certain it never happens again,” says Wayne Hanley, the national president of United Food & Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW).
UFCW, AWA calling for coroner’s inquest
For Raper, this means that if a coroner’s inquest is launched, which the UFCW and the AWA are advocating, it needs to not just look at the 15-seater van involved in the crash — which he argues needs to be eliminated — but also the work conditions of migrant farm workers. In particular, Raper cites the lack of Employment Standards Act protections for hours of work.
“Worker fatigue has played a role in this accident,” Raper argues. “When you’re a chicken catcher and inoculating 17,000 birds in a huge barn, by the time you come out of there, if you’re not physically spent, you weren’t doing your job,” he says. “When you’re fatigued, you make errors. And a critical error was made and it cost 11 people their lives.”
The UFCW and the AWA have set up a Migrant Workers Family Support Fund to assist the families of the killed and injured workers, as well as the truck driver.