Bumble Bee Foods has agreed to pay $6 million to settle criminal charges in the death of Jose Melena, a worker who was cooked in a 270-degree oven with tons of tuna. According to an NBC Los Angeles news report, the settlement is the largest payout in a California workplace violation death. The settlement includes a $1.5 million payment to Melena’s family. Melena died in 2012 when he was trapped in the hot oven at the tuna company’s Santa Fe Springs plant.
A co-worker mistakenly thought Melena was in the bathroom and filled the oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna. The company has also agreed to upgrade its ovens, pay fines and penalties and provide $750,000 to the district attorney’s office to fund workplace safety investigations.
The upgrades include video safety monitoring around the ovens, training for workers and managers about safety rules and safety audits of plant equipment. A former safety manager at the plant also pleaded guilty in the workplace death and was sentenced to probation and a $19,000 fine. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of willfully violating lockout tagout rules and causing the victim’s death.
Preventing Tragedies in the Workplace
This incident at Bumble Bee is an example of how a poor decision in a fraction of a second can have life-changing or life-ending consequences. In this case, all the co-worker had to do was follow existing safety protocols, which dictate that he ensure no one is inside the cooker before turning it on. In this case, it appears that the co-worker completely failed to follow the protocol, assuming that this colleague was in the restroom. It turned out to be a fatal assumption.
In the workplace, especially if you are working with large potentially-dangerous equipment, you leave nothing to chance. Regulations and protocols are in place for a very good reason – to protect the lives of workers. One can only imagine the devastation this worker’s family suffered – emotionally and financially. As Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys, we understand what injured workers and families endure in the aftermath of an accident. It is critical that employers create and maintain a workplace that is safe for their employees at all times.