Los Angeles prosecutors charged Bumble Bee Foods and two managers on Monday with violating safety regulations when a worker was cooked to death in an industrial oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna.
Both managers could face serve jail sentences and the company could be charged with a maximum fine of $1.5 million.
Jose Melena, 62, was performing maintenance work in 35-foot-long industrial oven at Bumble Bee’s Santa Fe Springs plant in October 2012 when a co-worker, thinking Melena was on a bathroom break, filled the pressure cooker with thousands of pounds of canned tuna and turned it on.
According to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), Melena’s supervisor then noticed he was missing. A search was conducted in the plant and parking lot before his body was found two hours later – after the oven reached a temperature of 270 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prosecutors charged the company and two managers each with three counts of violating OSHA rules: The violation of a safety plan, the violation of rules for workers entering confined spaces and the violation of safety procedures that ensure machinery and equipment are turned off when a worker is conducting cleaning or maintenance
The two managers could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if convicted of all charges. The company faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.
Bumble Bee Foods has already appealed the fines, arguing it improved its safety program after Melena’s death.
“We remain devastated by the loss of our colleague Jose Melena in the tragic accident,”the company said in a statement, according to CBS News. “We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges filed by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office.”
It is not the first time the company has been cited for dangerous work conditions with its ovens. A previous OSHA citation leads to a fine of $74,000.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has stepped up its prosecution of industrial accidents. In 2013, the state cited nearly 15,000 workplace violations. Of 189 investigations, the state referred 29 to prosecutors. So far this year, the DA’s office has filed charges in 14 cases.