Bumble Bee Foods LLC and two former managers were charged with willfully violating worker safety rules and allegedly causing the 2012 death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company’s plant in Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
Saul Florez, Bumble Bee’s former safety manager, Angel Rodriguez, the company’s director of plant operations, and San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods LLC were charged with three felony counts each of an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violation causing death.
Prosecutors said on October 11, 2012, victim Jose Melena of Wilmington, Calif., entered a 35' long cylindrical oven as part of his job duties at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant. The oven is used to sterilize cans of tuna. Unaware that Melena was inside the oven, coworkers loaded multiple carts (collectively containing about 12,000 lb of tuna), closed the front door and started the oven. The victim inadvertently became trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker.
During the two-hour heat sterilization process, the oven’s internal temperature rose to approximately 270°F (132°C). Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker, prosecutors said. Melena worked for the company for about six years.
"We take worker safety very seriously," Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a release announcing the charges. "For the past year, prosecutors and investigators from my office have begun rolling out to major industrial incidents involving serious worker injuries and death. Our goal is to enhance the criminal prosecution of workplace safety violations. Although the Bumble Bee investigation began in 2012, this case represents our commitment to protecting workers from illegal — and, potentially, deadly — on-the-job practices."
If convicted as charged, Florez and Rodriguez face a maximum sentence of three years in state prison and/or a $250,000 fine. San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.
The defendants are expected to be arraigned in case BA435950 on May 27 in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center. The case will be prosecuted by Hoon Chun, assistant head deputy of the Consumer Protection Division, and Deputy District Attorney Christopher Curtis of the Environmental Crimes/OSHA Section.
The case remains under investigation by the Cal/OSHA Bureau of Criminal Investigations.