In October 2012, Bumble Bee Foods worker Jose Melena had climbed inside one of the plant’s industrial pressure cookers to do some routine maintenance before loading up the next batch of tuna, reports the LA Times. His coworkers didn’t realize he was inside the oven, so they started loading up the next 12,000 pound batch of tuna and fired up the oven with Melena inside. Temperatures inside reached about 270 degrees F (for reference, boiling point is 212 F), and Melena was effectively cooked to death in this horrific accident.
Yesterday, Bumble Bee Foods, its former safety manager Saul Florez, and director of plant operations Angel Rodriguez were each charged with three felony counts of committing an occupational safety and health violation that caused a death. The investigation into Melena’s death has been ongoing since it occurred on October 11, 2012.
In a separate LA Times piece, details from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s 25-page report explained exactly what happened on that fateful day. Melena’s shift began at 4 am, at which time his supervisor ordered him to load an oven using a pallet jack. Some time between 4 and 5 am, Melena entered the oven to do some type of maintenance; possibly adjusting a chain inside that wasn’t where it was supposed to be. He left his empty pallet jack outside the oven at that time.
Another employee then noticed the seemingly abandoned pallet jack and assumed Melena had left it to use the bathroom. That employee then started loading the oven with tuna. The report said that “Around the same time, the supervisor questioned why the employee was using the pallet jack and began asking employees if they had seen Melena.” An announcement came over the intercom, and workers searching for Melena noticed that his vehicle was still in the parking lot.
Finally, after an hour and a half of searching, the boiler operator suggested checking the last oven they loaded. The oven was so hot that the workers had to wait an additional 30 minutes before they could even open it. They found Melena’s badly burned body inside the oven, and firefighters pronounced him dead at the scene.
The CBS News video above only refers to Melena’s death as having taken place in “an industrial oven.” However, both the LA Times and the AP refer to it as “an industrial pressure cooker,” which is an even more horrifying and painful way to die than a simple oven.
For those who don’t know how a pressure cooker works, check out the video below. While the pressure cooker involved was industrial rather than the home use one illustrated here, the basic principles of how it cooks remain the same.
Now that charges in Melena’s death have been filed, all three entities are scheduled for arraignment on May 27th. If convicted, Florez and Rodriguez face up to three years in prison each, as well as a $250,000 fine. Bumble Bee Foods faces a fine of $1.5 million.
Bumble Bee Foods issued a statement saying that it disagreed with and was “disappointed by the charges” filed by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
Lacey also issued a statement, saying: