Death of worker in Richmond cranberry bog leads to safety blitz

WorkSafe B.C. is investigating the death of a worker at the Columbia Cranberry Co Ltd cranberry farm in Richmond. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

WorkSafe B.C. is investigating the death of a Richmond farm worker who died after he fell into a watery cranberry bog.

According to WorkSafe B.C., on Oct. 30 two workers were harvesting cranberries in a flooded field at Richmond’s Columbia Cranberry Co. on Cambie Road when one worker became “submerged under the water.” His co-workers were able to pull him out of the water and he was transported to Richmond General Hospital in serious condition. He died three days later.

Geraldine Austin with the B.C. Cranberry Marketing Commission said the man suffered a heart attack before he fell into the bog, but WorkSafe B.C. couldn’t confirm it.

The man wasn’t wearing a personal flotation device, and according to the WorkSafe B.C. inspection report, this contravenes occupational health and safety regulations which state “a worker who is employed under conditions which involve a risk of drowning must wear a personal flotation device or life-jacket with sufficient buoyancy to keep the worker’s head above water.”

While many Fraser Valley cranberry farms have bogs that reach a maximum height of less than a metre — since they’re been set up on levelled sawdust — Richmond bogs are deeper because they “are set up sort of in this old system of cranberry farming,” according to WorkSafe B.C. spokeswoman Ally Skinner-Reynolds.

“There are parts where the water can be as deep as 5½ feet,” she said. “If you fill up or become stuck in the mud — a combination of force and gravity — it can be very hard to get out once you’ve gone under.”

WorkSafe B.C. is investigating the death of a worker at the Columbia Cranberry Co Ltd cranberry farm in Richmond. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

And according to the WorkSafe inspection report, “the employer did not provide personal flotation devices to workers.”

While the inspection is ongoing, WorkSafe B.C. has already ordered workers at Columbia Cranberry Co. — who have been contracted by Surrey-based Unique Labour Force Ltd. — to wear flotation devices when working in the field.

Calls to Unique Labour Force Ltd. were not returned.

A number of Richmond farms have followed suit with the recommendation, according to Wendy Bennett with the Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association.

“I know specifically of two other organizations who immediately went out and made sure they were providing their workers with PFDs,” she said. “They want to do everything they can to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

“It was very tragic.”

A Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association consultant has also been meeting with workers at Columbia Cranberry Co. on a weekly basis since the Oct. 30 incident, to provide tools, training and resources for a safe working environment, added Bennett.

WorkSafe B.C. also conducted an “inspection blitz” at more than 20 cranberry farms across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to ensure safety mechanisms are in place for next harvest.

lcahute@vancouverdesi.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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