Los Angeles, CA – Bumble Bee Foods will pay a record $6 million to settle criminal charges filed after a worker burned to death in a Lockout/Tagout accident at their Santa Fe Springs (CA) plant in 2012.
October 2012, 62-year-old Jose Melena was cooked to death inside a Bumble Bee Foods industrial oven. Melena was making repairs inside the pressurized steam cooker when co-workers unwittingly loaded the oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna and turned it on. This failure in employee safety training and lockout/tagout procedures resulted in Melena being tragically and avoidably cooked to death. Felony charges were filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney in April 2015 – Bumble Bee Foods and two of its employees were charged with willfully violating safety rules and originally faced up to 3 years in prison.
This six million dollar settlement represents the largest payout in the criminal prosecution of a workplace safety case involving a single victim in California, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Under the settlement agreements, Bumble Bee will spend $3 million to buy new ovens at its Santa Fe Springs plant. The new ovens will not require that employees enter the machines, and Bumble Bee will be required to implement further safety measures. They will also pay $1.5 million in restitution to the family of victim Jose Melena, $750,000 to the district attorney’s environmental enforcement fund, and another $750,000 in additional fines, penalties and court costs.
Once it complies with those conditions, Bumble Bee (which is owned by private equity firm Lion Capital LLP) will be allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, according to the district attorney’s office.
“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 said in a written statement.
The plant’s director of operations, Angel Rodriguez, has agreed to perform 320 hours of community service, pay $11,400 in fines and other penalties and take workplace safety classes. If he completes those conditions he will be allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor rather than serving 3 years in prison.
Under a separate agreement, Saul Florez, the plant’s former safety manager, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal safety violations and was sentenced to three years probation. Florez was also ordered to complete 30 days of community labor, attend safety classes and pay $19,000 in fines. Upon completion of those conditions he will be eligible to have his felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor, prosecutors said.
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