Tuna company Bumble Bee Foods agreed earlier this month to one of the biggest workplace settlements in California history because of an accident that resulted in the death of one of their employees.
Bumble Bee Foods will pay $6 million for willfully violating worker safety rules in the death of 62-year-old employee Jose Melena, who was found dead shortly before 7 a.m. on October 11, 2012 in a 36-foot-by 54-inch steam oven that had been on for over two hours at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs facility, CBS Los Angeles reported on Wednesday.
While Melena was busy fixing a chain inside, a co-worker dumped a batch of tuna into the 270-degree pressure oven and turned it on, thinking that Melena was in the restroom.
Out of the $6 million payout, half has been mandated to be spent on new automated ovens that will not require workers to step inside the oven for cleaning. In addition, $750,00 will go toward the district attorney’s Environmental Enforcement Fund for workplace safety programs, another $750,000 will cover fines, penalties and court costs, and $1.5 million has been awarded as restitution to the Melena’s family.
Bumble Bee will also have to enhance their safety measures by installing cameras, increasing training procedures and conducting safety audits.
The two men partially responsible for the horrific accident faced possible penalties of up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
One of the men, Angel Rodriguez, Bumble Bee’s director of plant operations, can plead guilty to a misdemeanor if he completes 320 hours of community service, pays $12,000 in fines and takes classes on confined space rules.
The other man, Saul Florez, Bumble Bee’s former safety manager, pleaded guilty to breaking lockout protocol and received three years’ probation and $19,000 in fines.
District attorney Hoon Chun told the Associated Press:
“This is the worst circumstances of death I have ever, ever witnessed. 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 Foods released a press statement that read:
“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.”
However, the Melena family is still having a difficult time accepting the fatal outcome of such a simple-minded error. They told CBS:
“Certainly, nothing will bring back our dad, and our mom will not have her husband back, but much can be done to ensure this terrible accident does not happen again.”
While the $6 million settlement has been agreed upon, Hoon Chun said the Melena family can still press additional charges and mentioned that they have already hired a civil lawyer.