Former Safety Manager Charged in U.S. Workplace Death

A former Safety Manager in California is among those charged with “willfully violating worker safety rules”, allegedly causing the death of a worker.

The former Safety Manager and the Director of Plant Operations of Bumble Bee Foods LLC, and the company itself, were charged “with three felony counts each of an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) violation causing death.”

A news release by the Los Angeles County District Attorney states:

“Prosecutors said on Oct. 11, 2012, victim Jose Melena, 62, of Wilmington, entered a 35-foot-long cylindrical oven as part of his job duties at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant. The oven is used to sterilize cans of tuna.

“Coworkers were unaware that Melena was inside the oven when they loaded multiple carts, collectively containing about 12,000 pounds of tuna, closed the front door and started the oven. The victim inadvertently became trapped in the back of the super-heated, pressurized steam cooker.

“During the two-hour heat sterilization process, the oven’s internal temperature rose to about 270 degrees. Melena’s severely burned remains were discovered by a coworker, prosecutors said. Melena worked for the company for about six years.”

The charges against the former Safety Manager and the Director of Plant Operations carry a possible jail term of three years and/or a fine of $250,000.00.  The company faces a fine of up to $1.5 million if convicted.

Charges against safety professionals are quite rare.  As we noted in a previous post, in 2011 an Occupational Health and Safety Co-ordinator was found guilty of a violation of Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety Act for neglecting to follow up with his employer on recommendations in an asbestos report.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s news release may be found here.

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Adrian Miedema

About Adrian Miedema

Adrian is a partner in the Toronto Employment group of Dentons Canada LLP. He advises and represents public- and private-sector employers in employment, health and safety and human rights matters. He appears before employment tribunals and all levels of the Ontario courts on behalf of employers. He also advises employers on strategic and risk management considerations in employment policy and contracts.

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