A former safety manager, an operations director and Bumble Bee Foods LLC all face criminal charges in connection with the 2012 death of an employee inside an industrial oven.
Former Bumble Bee Safety Manager Saul Florez, the company’s Director of Plant Operations Angel Rodriguez and Bumble Bee Foods were charged with three felony counts each of an OSHA violation causing death. The Los Angeles County District Attorney brought the charges.
On Oct. 11, 2012, Jose Melena, 62, entered a 35-foot-long oven as part of his job at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant.
Co-workers didn’t know Melena was inside. They loaded carts containing about 12,000 pounds of tuna into the oven, closed the door and started it.
During a two-hour sterilization process, the oven’s temperature rose to about 270 degrees. A co-worker discovered Melena’s severely burned remains.
If convicted of the charges, Florez and Rodriguez face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Bumble Bee faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.
In spring 2014, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey launched a new program to send investigators and prosecutors to the scenes of workplace deaths and environmental threats. Staffers from the OSHA and Environmental Crimes Rollout Program visit the sites immediately after incidents are reported. The staffers help preserve evidence and document eyewitness accounts. The investigators and prosecutors work with Cal/OSHA staff.
Cal/OSHA issued $73,995 in fines to Bumble Bee for six violations, five of them serious, for failing to:
- perform inspections or audits related to the energy control procedures for the production area
- determine whether the industrial ovens constituted permit-required confined spaces
- post signs or notify employees regarding the confined space created by the ovens
- develop and implement a written permit-required confined space program
- implement permit-required confined space program elements as mandated, and
- provide permit-required confined space training to employee working inside the ovens.
Bumble Bee issued a statement: “We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.” The company says it’s exploring all of its legal options.