Landscaping firm fined $199K in young man’s death

LAKE STEVENS — A state investigation into the work-related death of Bradley Hogue, 19, found that employees at an Everett-based landscaping and supply company regularly were asked to perform the dangerous task that ended his life.

The Department of Labor and Industries has fined Pacific Topsoils $199,000 for 16 safety violations related to the July 7 accident that killed the Lake Stevens teen. The state also labeled the company a “severe violator,” meaning L&I plans follow-up inspections for signs of unsafe work conditions.

The company plans to appeal the findings.

Bradley Hogue died after falling into a rotating auger that was being used to distribute beauty bark at a home in Duvall. It was his second day at his new job.

“There are simply no words,” said Deanna Hogue, Bradley’s mother. “My husband and I lost our son because of the negligence of Pacific Topsoils. There’s nothing we can do to bring him back. But maybe we can stop this from happening to someone else’s child, just by getting the story out there.”

Bradley Hogue was inside the hopper of a bark-blower truck when he fell. The L&I investigation concluded that workers frequently cleared jams in bark-blowers while equipment was running. Large moving parts, including conveyor belts, augers and rotating rods, can entangle and crush a person.

Pacific Topsoils should have followed procedures to lock and tag out the equipment, which prevents it from starting up during maintenance and cleaning, the state found. The company was fined $108,000 for two willful violations: failing to ensure that proper safety procedures were used and failure to train employees on those procedures.

L&I fined the company another $78,000 for 12 serious violations related to a lack of safe practices for working in confined spaces with moving parts. The company also failed to document proper equipment lockout practices and did not have an effective accident prevention program, leading to another $13,000 in fines, the state said.

Pacific Topsoils released a written statement, calling Hogue’s death “the result of a tragic and unfortunate accident” and noting that “it has deeply affected everyone at Pacific Topsoils.”

Since July, the company has worked with L&I to come up with better safety practices and training, according to the statement. The goal is to ensure Pacific Topsoils never has another workplace death.

“Worker safety is, and must always be, the top priority,” the company said.

The company plans to appeal the state’s findings. It maintains “the number and severity of the proposed violations are inconsistent with the facts and what is prescribed in the law,” according to the statement.

Company representatives declined to comment further.

Bradley Hogue’s family has not heard from Pacific Topsoils since the day he died, his mother said. She hopes employers can learn a vital lesson from her son’s death. More importantly, though, she hopes workers will pay attention to her loss.

“The reason why we chose to do interviews is to get the message out there that, in a work environment, you can say no if you don’t feel safe,” Deanna Hogue said. “If it’s not safe, don’t do it.”

Around Christmas, Bradley Hogue’s family hung a stocking in his memory. His friends brought cards and pictures to fill it. The gestures kept his spirit alive during the family’s first Christmas without him, his mother said.

Family and friends remember Bradley as energetic and outdoorsy, with a mind for math and a love for the beach and family hunting trips. He was a genuine friend who made people smile.

“We hope that we can prevent another family from going through what we’re experiencing right now,” Deanna Hogue said. “It’s not just a work-related accident. We lost our son.

“You’re not supposed to send your child to work and find out they were killed on the job. It just shouldn’t happen,” she said.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, kbray@heraldnet.com.

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