Tuna company agrees to US$6 million settlement in worker oven death
Bumble Bee Foods agreed to pay US$6 million to settle criminal charges Wednesday in the death of a worker who was cooked in an oven with tons of tuna.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the settlement is the largest payout in a California workplaceviolation death.
Jose Melena, 62, died three years ago in a 270-degree Fahren- heit oven at the seafood company’s Santa Fe Springs, California, plant after a co-worker mistakenly believed he was in the bathroom and filled a pressure cooker with six tons of canned tuna.
“This is the worst circumstances of death I have ever, ever witnessed,” said Deputy District Attorney Hoon Chun, who noted he had tried more than 40 murder cases over two decades. “I think any person would prefer to be — if they had to die some way — would prefer to be shot or stabbed than to be slowly cooked in an oven. “
Bumble Bee, its plant Operations Director Angel Rodriguez and former safety manager Saul Florez had each been charged with three counts of violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration rules that caused a death.
Under the agreement, Bumble Bee will be plead guilty to a misdemeanor of willfully failing to have an effective safety program in January 2017 if it completes several safety measures that include upgrading ovens so workers don’t get trapped inside and providing worker training.
“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,” the San Diego-based company said in a statement.
Florez, 42, of Whittier was sentenced to three years of probation and will face fines and penalties of about US$19,000 after pleading guilty to a single felony count of violating a workplace safety rule that caused a death.
Rodriguez, 63, of Riverside, agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in 18 months and pay about US$11,000 after he completes 320 hours of community service and worker safety courses.