Bumble Bee Foods and two of its employees were hit with criminal charges Monday stemming from the 2012 death of a worker who was trapped inside an industrial oven in Santa Fe Springs.

San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods LLC, the company’s former safety manager Saul Florez, 42, and its director of plant operations, 63-year-old Angel Rodriguez, were charged with three felony counts each of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration violation causing death.

On Oct. 11, 2012, 62-year-old worker Jose Melena entered a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven used to sterilize cans of tuna, prosecutors said. Co-workers, unaware that Melena was inside, loaded carts containing roughly 12,000 pounds of tuna, shut the front door and started the pressurized steam cooker. During the two-hour sterilization process, the oven reached a temperature of about 270 degrees, prosecutors said.

Melena’s burned remains were discovered by a co-worker.

“We take worker safety very seriously,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “For the past year, prosecutors and investigators from my office have begun rolling out to major industrial incidents involving serious worker injuries and death. Our goal is to enhance the criminal prosecution of workplace safety violations.”

Bumble Bee issued a statement saying that a Cal-OSHA investigation of the death found no willful violations and that safety was a “top priority” for the company.

“We remain devastated by the loss of our colleague Jose Melena in the tragic accident that occurred at our Santa Fe Springs plant in October 2012,” according to the company. “We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. We are currently exploring all options with respect to those charges and will proceed in a manner that best serves the needs of the Melena family, our employees and the company.”

The District Attorney’s Office said the Cal-OSHA investigation was ongoing.

Florez, of Whittier, and Rodriguez, who lives in Riverside, face a maximum sentence of three years in state prison and a $250,000 fine. The seafood processing company faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

The defendants are expected to be arraigned May 27.

City News Service

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