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Bumble Bee pays record settlement in death of worker trapped in oven

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Bumble Bee Foods L.L.C. will pay $6 million for workplace safety violations that caused the death of an employee trapped inside an industrial oven, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Wednesday.

The San Diego, California-based food producer will pay $1.5 million in restitution to the family of Jose Melena, who was killed in October 2012 at the company's Santa Fe Springs, California, plant, according to a statement from the district attorney's office. Mr. Melena was stuck in the back of an industrial oven after his coworkers loaded 12,000 pounds of canned tuna, unaware he was inside the oven.

The company will spend $3 million to replace all of its outdated tuna ovens with new, automated ovens and has pledged not to require workers to enter the super-heated, pressurized steam cookers. Bumble Bee must also implement enhanced safety measures such as installing video cameras at their ovens, train managers and workers about safety rules and conduct safety audits of its plant equipment.

Another $1.5 million will reimburse investigators for the costs of the criminal inquiry and pay for court costs, fines and penalties, the statement said.

The settlement is the largest known payout in a California criminal prosecution of workplace safety violations involving a single victim and requires the company to make a public statement conceding guilt, according to the statement.

“Bumble Bee has reached a settlement with the Los Angeles District Attorney's office related to the tragic accident that occurred at our Santa Fe Springs plant in October 2012,” the company said in a statement. “While this resolution will help bring closure with the district attorney's office, 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.”

Angel Rodriguez of Riverside, California, Bumble Bee's director of plant operations, was charged in the case. He agreed in a plea bargain to perform 320 hours of community service, pay about $11,400 and take classes on lockout tagout and confined-space rules, which are procedures designed to disable machinery or equipment and protect workers from the release of hazardous energy, the district attorney's statement said.

Saul Florez, Bumble Bee's former safety manager from Whittier, California, pleaded guilty to a felony count of willfully violating lockout tagout rules and proximately causing Mr. Melena's death. He was sentenced to three years of formal probation, ordered to complete 30 days of community labor, pay $19,000 and also take safety classes.