Bumble Bee Foods LLC will pay $6 million for willfully violating worker safety rules, causing the 2012 death of an employee who became trapped inside an industrial oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs plant.

According to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, the settlement is the largest-known payout in a California criminal prosecution of workplace safety violations involving a single victim.

The payout will be applied as follows:

  • The company will pay $3 million to replace all of their outdated tuna ovens with new ovens that are automated. Also, the company will not ever require workers to set foot inside the super-heated, pressurized steam cookers.
  • Bumble Bee will pay $1.5 million in restitution to the family of victim.
  • Bumble Bee will pay $750,000 for the district attorney’s Environmental Enforcement Fund for the investigation and prosecution of Occupational Safety and Health Administration criminal cases, and for improving enforcement of workplace safety and compliance rules.
  • The company also will pay $750,000 in combined fines, penalties and court costs.

Under the terms of the agreement, Bumble Bee also must implement enhanced safety measures such as installing video cameras at their ovens to ensure safety compliance; providing training to managers and workers about safety rules; and conducting safety audits of their plant equipment.

The settlement resolves the case relating to the industrial accident, which occurred on October 11, 2012, when Jose Melena of Wilmington, Calif., entered a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven at Bumble Bee Foods as part of his job duties. Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded 12,000 lb of canned tuna, trapping the victim in the back of the oven. Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker following a two-hour heat sterilization process.

While the terms of the agreement were announced at a hearing on August 12, the sentence will not be formally imposed for 18 months. According to the settlement, if at that time, Bumble Bee has complied with all of the settlement terms, the company will be allowed to plead guilty to willful failure to implement and maintain an effective safety program, a misdemeanor. The plea also requires the company to make a public statement conceding guilt.

Bumble Bee’s Director of Plant Operations, Angel Rodriguez, also was charged in the case. He has agreed to do 320 hours of community service, pay approximately $11,400 in fines and penalty assessments, and take classes on lockout/tagout and confined space rules. If Rodriguez complies with the agreed-upon conditions, in 18 months, he will be allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor at sentencing.

Co-defendant Saul Florez, Bumble Bee’s former safety manager, pleaded guilty on August 12 to a felony count of willfully violating lockout/tagout rules and proximately causing the victim’s death. He was immediately sentenced to three years of formal probation. Florez was ordered to complete 30 days of community labor and take classes on lock out tagout and confined spaces. Florez also must pay approximately $19,000 in fines and penalty assessments. In 18 months, if Florez complies with the terms and conditions of the plea agreement, he may be eligible to have his felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.

Under the terms of the plea, both men are required to make public statements conceding guilt for their respective roles in the victim’s death.

The case was investigated by the Cal/OSHA Bureau of Criminal Investigations. The case was prosecuted by Consumer Protection Division Assistant Head Deputy Hoon Chun and Deputy District Attorney Christopher Curtis.