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A 19-Year-Old Landscape Laborer Dies When Entangled in Auger after Entering the Hopper of a Bark Blower Truck, Washington

Washington Case Report: 15WA029
Release Date: October 20, 2017
The following report is the product of our Cooperative State partner and is presented here in its original unedited form from the state. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


In July of 2014, a 19-year-old landscape laborer died after entering the hopper of a bark blower truck and becoming entangled in its rotating auger system. The victim was employed by a company that is a supplier of commercial and residential bark, mulch, and other landscaping materials. The day of the incident was his second day on the job. He had no prior experience in the landscaping industry.

On the day of the incident, the victim, along with a supervisor and another laborer were to deliver a load of bark mulch in a bark blower truck to the yard of a residence. The bark blower truck consisted of a truck-mounted pneumatic blower system powered by a diesel engine. Bulk material was loaded into the hopper and an operator would use a control to engaged the system’s power. Located on the hopper floor was a conveyor belt that moved material toward the auger system mounted on the hopper’s rear door. This system consisted of a stir rod, to break up the material, and two diagonal augers that would drive the material down into a rotating feeder located on the hopper floor. When the material entered the feeder it would be caught up in the air flow created by the air blower and enter the discharge hose for placement on a site.

The bark blower truck being used that day had broken pressure sensors that would shut down the conveyor belt when the auger system experienced too much pressure from bulk material in the hopper; this would then allow the auger system parts to turn and drive material into the feeder and out the delivery hose. Because of the broken sensors, the hopper’s bulk material would bridge over the conveyor belt, forming a tunnel. When tunneling occurred, material would not flow into the feeder and workers were unable to blow the material through the hose onto a site. It had become accepted company practice to have workers inside the hopper standing on bulk material using a pitchfork to move material into the blower system. They would work 1 to 5 feet from the rotating unguarded auger system. This was the case with the victim on the day of the incident.

The supervisor and other laborer could not see the victim working in the truck’s hopper as they where blowing bark onto the residence’s yard. They heard a clunking noise coming from the truck and bark stopped flowing through the hose. The supervisor used the remote control to shut down power to the system. He then walked over to the truck and called the victim’s name. When he received no answer, he instructed the laborer to call 911. Police and fire department emergency medical service responders arrived within minutes. A police officer looked into the hopper and found the deceased victim entangled in the stir rod of the auger system.

A 19-Year-Old Landscape Laborer Dies When Entangled in Auger after Entering the Hopper of a Bark Blower Truck, Washington [PDF 3,485 KB]