Bumble Bee Foods LLC pleaded not guilty today to charges related to the 2012 death of a worker in an industrial oven, according to a report here.
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 the 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 that 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.
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.
On April 28, Bumble Bee Foods issued a statement:
We remain devastated by the loss of our colleague Jose Melena in the tragic accident that occurred at our Santa Fe Springs plant in October 2012. Bumble Bee cooperated fully with Cal-OSHA in its post-accident investigation, which found no willful violations related to the accident.
We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. We are currently exploring all options with respect to those charges and will proceed in the manner that best serves the needs of the Melena family, our employees and the Company.
Safety has always been and will always be a top priority at our facilities. Since the 2012 accident, we have made our safety program even more robust, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring the safest possible workplace for our employees.