Minister of Labour Harry Bains has said that “They packed their lunches, searched for the bus fare or the car keys, and left for work. Some kissed the foreheads of their kids as they walked out the door. Others said a quick goodbye and promised to finish the conversation, or help with the chores, when they returned home later that night. But they never returned home. None of them, nor their loved ones, fathomed that these would be their final words or actions, because a preventable work accident stole their future.
“This week marks the anniversaries of two tragic incidents that took the lives of B.C. workers while on the job. Years have passed, but the grief of their loss lingers for the friends and family left behind. For them, March 7 and 8 serve as an annual reminder that, in the quest for earning a living, their loved ones gave their life.
“On March 8, 2005, Grant DePatie, a gas-station attendant in Maple Ridge, died while attempting to stop a driver from stealing gas. On March 7, 2007, Sukvinder Kaur Punia, Sarbjit Kaur Sidhu and Amarjit Kaur Bal were on their way to work on a farm in Abbotsford when the overcrowded van they were travelling in crashed, killing the three women and injuring many others.
“These incidents, while horrific and heartbreaking, spurred long overdue changes to worker safety policies that have since saved lives and continue to inspire people, such as myself, to do what we can to improve working conditions for people in our province.
“After the death of Grant DePatie, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to bring in a regulation requiring gas customers to pay before they pump, virtually eliminating ‘gas-and-dash’ thefts in B.C. The government also amended its working alone or in isolation regulations to require late-night workers to be accompanied by another worker, be protected by a barrier or work with a series of safeguards, such as a surveillance camera and emergency button.
“The deaths of the three farmworkers shone a spotlight on unacceptable working conditions in the agricultural industry, leading government and public-sector agencies to make changes to improve worker safety. These included bringing in random, roadside safety checks on vehicles used to transport farm workers; expanding legislation and enforcement to improve vehicle safety, and making contractors more accountable for safely transporting workers; and improving education, so that farm workers know their rights and know how to recognize unsafe working conditions.
“I’m now looking at ways we can further improve these measures — eliminating the unacceptable practice of having workers stand on the roadside during inspections, for example. We need to do more to keep workers safe, while treating these workers with dignity and respect.
“Though we’ve seen improvements toward increasing safety precautions, the job is not complete until the culture of work raises the bar, heightens the expectation and demands that every possible measure is pursued until we make British Columbia the safest jurisdiction in Canada for workers.
“This week serves as a sad reminder of the need to be vigilant in our efforts to keep workers in all sectors safe. Our government has made the health and safety of working people one of our top priorities. As Minister of Labour, I am passionately committed to making B.C. workplaces the safest in Canada and making sure that, unlike Grant, Sukvinder, Sarbjit and Amarjit, every British Columbian returns home safely at the end of their workday.”