Bumble Bee Foods has been fined nearly $74,000 and cited for six safety violations after an employee was cooked to death after being trapped in an industrial pressure cooker.
The citations come seven months after state regulators began investigating the accidental death of Jose Melena, 62, of Wilmington. The father of six had been employed with the company for five years.
According to a 25-page report by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Melena was responsible for loading the 54-inch by 36-foot ovens with 12 rolling metal baskets full of tuna cans. The ovens are used to sterilize aluminum cans and to process the tuna in the cans.
At the start of his 4 a.m. shift on Oct. 11, 2012, Melena was ordered by his supervisor to load one particular oven. Sometime before 5 a.m., according to the report, Melena entered the oven to make a repair or to adjust a chain inside the machine, leaving the pallet jack he was using outside the oven.
At that time, a second employee noticed the unused pallet jacket. Assuming Melena was in the bathroom, the second employee took the machine and loaded the oven with the baskets.
“Around the same time, the supervisor questioned why the employee was using the pallet jack and began asking employees if they had seen” Melena, the report said.
The report states an announcement was made on the intercom. Workers also began looking for Melena. They discovered that his vehicle was still in the parking lot. After searching for nearly an hour and a half, the boiler operator suggested that they open the last oven that was loaded.
The workers waited about 30 minutes for the oven to cool down before they could open it. Melena’s body was eventually found at the exit side of the oven. Firefighters pronounced him dead at the scene.
The Santa Fe Springs tuna company was issued “serious” citations for failing to evaluate and identify the 10 ovens in the production area as hazardous and permit-required spaces.
State officials also faulted the company for not informing workers about the areas with “danger” signs or implementing a program to address safety precautions while working inside the large ovens, as required by law.
“We will be reviewing the citations with Cal/OSHA representatives in the coming weeks to resolve any disagreements regarding the citations,” company officials said in a statement.
“Safety is a top priority; we are cooperating fully with authorities, including Cal/OSHA, and have reviewed all safety procedures with plant employees and stressed the importance of following procedures to maximize employee safety. “