Bumble Bee Foods reaches settlement for employee killed in oven

Bumble Bee Foods reached an agreement Wednesday to pay $6 million to the family of Jose Melena, who died inside a pressure cooker in 2012.

Jose Melena, aged 62 when he died, was loading tuna into one of the industrial ovens at Bumble Bee Foods in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. when he got trapped inside. A coworker thought Melena was in the bathroom and mistakenly turned on the oven with Melena still inside. Melena was essentially cooked to death inside the 270-degree oven. His body wasn’t found until two hours after he got locked inside the oven.

The company did not have any safety procedures in place that required another employee to verify that no one was inside the oven. It also did not have any way for an employee stuck inside to get out. To that end, the Bumble Bee plant’s Operations Director Angel Rodriguez and former safety manager Saul Florez were each charged with violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)vrules.

Rodriguez, 63, will complete 320 hours of community service and worker safety courses and pay nearly $11,000 in fines. Florez, 42, who plead guilty to violating a workplace safety rule, was sentenced to three years of probation and will have to pay nearly $19,000 in fines.

By the same token, Bumble Bee is appealing $74,000 in fines, claiming that personnel from the state’s occupational safety agency failed to properly assess employee danger at their plant. Additionally, the company will spend $3 million to replace their ovens with new, automated machines with video cameras that will not require workers to step foot inside. Furthermore, the company will donate $750,000 to the District Attorney’s Environmental Enforcement Fund for use in the prosecution of future (OSHA) cases and pay an additional $750,000 in fines and court costs.

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the agreement marks the largest payout in a workplace-violation death in the history of the state of California.


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