Pays $6M for death: Bumble Bee Settlement

Published: August 14, 2015

Pays $6M for death: Bumble Bee Settlement, On one of his early morning shifts, Jose Melena stepped into a 35-foot-long cylinder-shaped oven at the Bumble Bee Foods plant in Santa Fe Springs.

The 62-year-old father of six needed to make a quick repair inside the massive industrial pressure cooker, which is used to sterilize thousands of cans of tuna at a time.

Not realizing Melena was inside, fellow employees shut the machine door behind him on that day in October 2012 and turned the oven on.

With temperatures reaching about 270 degrees, Melena was cooked to death.

On Wednesday, Melena’s gruesome death resulted in the largest known payout for workplace safety violations involving a single victim in a California criminal prosecution.

Bumble Bee Foods will pay $6 million for “willfully violating worker safety rules,” according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

Bumble Bee Foods Agrees To Record Settlement In Worker’s Death
Bumble Bee Foods will pay a total of $6 million in the settlement with the L.A. County district attorney’s office.

Bumble Bee Foods will pay a total of $6 million in the settlement with the L.A. County district attorney’s office.

“You don’t have warm blood running in your veins if you’re not affected by the way this guy died. It’s horrific,” said Hoon Chun, assistant head deputy district attorney for the office’s Consumer Protection Division, who helped prosecute the case. “I cannot imagine a worse result of violating safety rules than something like this.”

Melena’s death, he said, will force the company to change the way things are done at the plant. The company will pay $3 million to replace its outdated tuna ovens with new ovens that don’t require workers to set foot inside.

Bumble Bee will also pay $1.5 million in restitution to Melena’s family. The district attorney’s Environmental Enforcement Fund will receive $750,000 from Bumble Bee, and the company will pay an additional $750,000 in combined fines, penalties and court costs.

“I hope it sends a message that safety rules are not a recommendation, they are a legal requirement,” Chun said. “I’m hoping people will … realize shortcutting safety rules to make a few extra bucks and improve the bottom line is not a tolerable equation.”

Bumble Bee must implement enhanced safety measures, such as installing video cameras at their ovens, providing training to managers and workers about safety rules and conducting safety audits of equipment.

The San Diego-based company was charged with three counts of willfully violating safety rules, causing death — a felony. If Bumble Bee complies with the terms of the settlement agreement with the district attorney’s office, the company will plead guilty after 18 months to one misdemeanor count.

An attorney for the company told a judge during Wednesday’s court hearing that the firm had already begun making the necessary improvements to prevent a similar accident. The company’s attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.

“While this resolution will help bring closure with the district attorney’s office, 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,” Bumble Bee Foods said in a statement.

In addition to charging the company, prosecutors also filed the same felony charges in April against two of Bumble Bee’s employees.

At the time of Melena’s death, Angel Rodriguez was the director of operations and in charge of every aspect of production, including safety. In interviews with Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Rodriguez said he knew that the employees were occasionally entering the ovens, Chun said.


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