$6m Payout Over Worker Cooked Alive In Tuna Oven

$6m Payout Over Worker Cooked Alive In Tuna Oven

A California food company has agreed to pay $6m (£3.8m) to settle criminal charges after a worker became trapped inside an industrial oven and was cooked with tons of tuna.

Jose Melena died in 2012 in a 270-degree oven at Bumble Bee Foods's plant in Santa Fe Springs after a co-worker mistakenly believed he had gone to the bathroom and loaded six tons of canned tuna into the oven he had stepped inside.

The payout is the largest in a California workplace-violation death and is four times greater than the maximum fines the company faced.

Hoon Chun, Deputy District Attorney, said: "This is the worst circumstances of death I have ever, ever witnessed.

"I think any person would prefer to be - if they had to die some way - would prefer to be shot or stabbed than to be slowly cooked in an oven."

Bumble Bee did not have safety procedures that would have turned the equipment off when an employee was inside, or provide an escape route or a spotter to keep watch, Mr Hoon said.

The firm, along with plant operations director Angel Rodriguez and former safety manager Saul Florez were each charged with three counts of violating Occupational Safety & Health Administration rules.

Bumble Bee agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanour of having willfully failed to provide an effective safety programme. It must introduce safety measures including spending $3m (£1.9m) to upgrade ovens so workers cannot be trapped inside.

Florez, 42, was sentenced to three years of probation and will face fines and penalties of around $19,000 (£12,000) after pleading guilty to a felony count of violating a workplace safety rule.

Rodriguez, 63, will plead guilty to a misdemeanour and will pay around $11,000 (£7,000) after he completes 320 hours of community service.

Both men had faced up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 (£160,000). The company faced fines of up to $1.5m (£960,000).

Mr Melena's family will receive $1.5m as part of the settlement.

In a statement, his family said: "Certainly, nothing will bring back our dad, and our mom will not have her husband back, but much can be done to ensure this terrible accident does not happen again."

The 62-year-old had been loading pallets of canned tuna into 35ft-long ovens on 11 October, 2012.

When a supervisor noticed he was missing, an announcement was made on the intercom and employees searched for him at the plant, according to a California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report.

His body was found two hours later after the cooker was turned off and opened.

In a statement, Bumble Bee Foods said: "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."