Improving farmworker safety in terms of transportation has been a major success story in B.C. – but one that came as the result of a terrible tragedy.
On the rain-soaked morning of March 7, 2007, a van carrying 16 farmworkers on Hwy. 1 lost control and crashed near Sumas Way in Abbotsford.
Three women in that vehicle lost their lives, and the other occupants were injured.
Subsequent investigation revealed the over-capacity van had just two seatbelts. One seat was nothing more than a wooden bench. The vehicle’s tires were in poor shape and improperly inflated.
It was an awful accident waiting to happen – and it did.
The incident galvanized representative organizations and labour unions to demand action. Provincial authorities responded with a new program of annual roadway inspections targeting vehicles transporting farmworkers.
The scale of the problem quickly became obvious, with 30 per cent of inspected vehicles failing inspection by the CVSE. One in five vehicles were found by Worksafe BC to have “serious mechanical difficulties.”
The crackdown worked. Violations dropped substantially by 2008, with just 8.5 per cent of vehicles transporting farmworkers failing CVSE inspection or found by Worksafe BC to have major mechanical issues.
However, there is a disconcerting new trend. A total of 265 vehicles went through checks in 2010. In 2014, that number dropped to 124 vehicles inspected. Officials think it’s because of fewer contractors and workers who are doing more carpooling.
Hopefully that’s true, but the decline must be researched to be fully understood. Reduced inspections have a clear, dangerous direction – a decrease in farm worker transportation safety.
More deaths as a result would not be a tragedy. They would be a travesty.