Bradley Hogue (The Hogue Family)

Bradley Hogue (The Hogue Family)

Tighter safety rules at Pacific Topsoils after death in 2014

LAKE STEVENS — Bradley Hogue’s friends still gather at least twice a year.

They raise a toast on his birthday in February. He would have been 22.

They get together again on what they call his “Angelversary” — July 7, the day he died on the job in 2014.

The Lake Stevens High School grad, remembered for his good humor and infectious energy, was caught and crushed by rotating augers while breaking up landscaping bark so it would feed onto the conveyor belt of a bark-blowing truck. It was the 19-year-old’s second day at a new summer job.

“The death of my son has really woken up the issue of work safety,” said Deanna Hogue, Bradley’s mom. “We just don’t want this for anybody, for them to have to experience what we’ve experienced.”

State investigators concluded that the teen’s death was the result of willful safety violations by the Everett-based company he worked for, Pacific Topsoils.

Last summer, the company pleaded guilty in the first criminally prosecuted worker safety case in Washington state in two decades. Though several cases have been referred to prosecutors in the past, this remains the only one to be prosecuted, Labor and Industries spokeswoman Elaine Fischer said.

The company agreed to a $200,000 settlement that included a $100,000 fine for the criminal penalty and another $100,000 for 16 L&I safety violations related to Hogue’s death. Pacific Topsoils agreed to make safety improvements, keep a consultant on staff for at least two years and report to the state every six months.

The company has kept up with those conditions, according to state documents.

Pacific Topsoils works with two consulting companies. One handles day-to-day safety and the other focuses on changes in workplace safety laws or how they are interpreted, according to a letter general manager Tom Foster submitted with the company’s twice-yearly report. Foster did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The company also has an in-house safety coordinator and a list of nearly 50 changes it has made.

Among the changes are regular site inspections, updated employee training, surprise spot checks for blower truck crews, and new safety stickers and master switches on heavy equipment to improve lockout procedures.

Investigators found that employees prior to Hogue’s death did not properly lock out equipment to prevent it from accidentally starting. They were trained only to stay a pitchfork length away from where bark fed into the augers. Warning stickers were lacking on the truck Hogue was working in, one of the oldest in the fleet and notorious for problems feeding bark into the blower.

Pacific Topsoils added secondary vibrators to bark-blowing trucks to better move material and prevent hang-ups. There’s a new employee safety committee, with representatives elected by company-wide votes. Hiring packets now have more safety information; first aid and CPR classes are offered in English and Spanish; and new equipment has been purchased, including guards for machinery, eye wash stations, new respirators for mixing fertilizer and life rings for working near water.

There have been no state safety investigations at Pacific Topsoils since the investigation into Hogue’s death, Fischer said. The company has reported in as required, and L&I does not have concerns, she said.

Deanna Hogue has copies of the safety reports. She hasn’t been able to look at them. She wants to know that workers are safer, but it’s painful to recall all that went wrong the day her son died.

“Unfortunately, my son had to set an example for Washington state,” she said. “I think it’s a very strong message out there, and I think it needs to be continued, about safety in the work space.”

She urges parents to talk to their children about jobs, especially during the summer. Kids are out of school, many of them recent graduates like Bradley, and they think they can handle anything. They want to impress, and if they notice unsafe conditions, they might hesitate to speak up.

No job is worth a life, she said.

Earlier this month, more than 30 of Bradley’s friends went to Davies Beach at Wyatt Park to write messages on lanterns and send them into the sky. They gathered under the gazebo for a prayer. They still wear the bright green bracelets his mom gave out at past gatherings.

The bracelets have his name on them: Bradley Alan Hogue.

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

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