A California food company will pay a record $6m (€5.4m) to settle criminal charges filed after a worker burned to death nearly three years ago inside an industrial oven packed with canned tuna.
The 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 Foods will spend $3m to buy new ovens at its plant in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Fe Springs that employees will not be required to enter and implement other safety measures.
The company will also pay $1.5m in restitution to the family of victim Jose Melena, $750,000 to the district attorney’s environmental enforcement fund and $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.
Prosecutors say Angel Rodriguez, the plant’s director of operations, 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.
Melena, who had worked for Bumble Bee for about six years, crawled into the 11 metre cylindrical pressure cooker on October 11, 2012 as part of his duties.
Co-workers who were unaware that Melena, 62, was still inside the apparatus then packed 12,000lb (5,443 kg) of canned tuna inside, closed the door and turned it on.
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