Bumble Bee to Pay $6 Million in Death of Cooked Employee

The oven where Jose Melena was cooked in 2012 in Santa Fe Springs, California.
The oven where Jose Melena was cooked in 2012 in Santa Fe Springs, California.

Bumble Bee Foods will pay $6 million in the 2012 death of an employee who was cooked in an industrial oven with tons of tuna.  This is the biggest settlement in a California for workplace safety violations involving a single victim, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Jose Melena, 62, was loading a 35-foot-long oven at the company’s Santa Fe Springs plant before dawn Oct. 11, 2012, when a co-worker, who mistakenly believed Melena was in the bathroom, filled the pressure cooker with 12,000 pounds of canned tuna and it was turned on, according to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Melena was cooked in the 270 degree heat, and his gruesome death nearly three years ago resulted Wednesday in the largest known payout for workplace safety violations involving a single victim in a California criminal prosecution.

“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, consumer protection division assistant head deputy for the district attorney, 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 he once toiled at. Workers will no longer have to set foot inside the pressurized steam cookers, with the company paying $3 million to replace their outdated tuna ovens with new ovens that are automated.

Bumble Bee will 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 also will pay $750,000 in combined fines, penalties and court costs.

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 their plant equipment.