In the biggest-ever settlement in California over workplace safety violations involving a single victim, Bumble Bee Foods will pay $6 million in the death of an employee who was accidentally cooked in a 270 degree industrial oven.
An investigation by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that the company’s oven system was inherently dangerous, because the chains pulling carts of tuna into the ovens were prone to getting snagged, requiring workers to enter the ovens in order to pull the carts through.
How it happened
Bumble Bee employee Jose Melena, 62, was loading a 35-foot-long oven at the company's Santa Fe Springs plant on Oct. 11, 2012, when a co-worker who mistakenly believed Melena was in the bathroom filled the pressure cooker with 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and turned it on.
Melena’s body was found two hours later after the pressure cooker was turned off.
According to news reports, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said Bumble Bee will pay $3 million to replace all of its outdated tuna ovens with automated ovens and will never require workers to set foot inside the super-heated, pressurized steam cookers.
The company will also pay $1.5 million in restitution to Melena's family, and it will pay the district attorney's Environmental Enforcement Fund $750,000 for workplace safety programs and $750,000 in fines, penalties and court costs.
In addition, Saul Florez, Bumble Bee's former safety manager, was sentenced to three years' probation, ordered to complete 30 days of community labor and assessed $19,000 in fines and penalties after pleading guilty to a felony count of willfully violating lockout rules and indirectly causing Melena's death.
Angel Rodriguez, Bumble Bee's director of plant operations, will be allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in 18 months if he completes 320 hours of community service, pays $11,400 in fines and takes classes on confined space rules.
Bumble Bee and both men are required to make public statements conceding guilt under the terms of the settlement.
In a statement, Bumble Bee said it hoped the settlement would bring "closure."
"We will never forget the unfathomable loss of our colleague Jose Melena and we are committed to ensuring that employee safety remains a top priority at all our facilities," it said.