Bumble Bee Foods and two of its managers have been charged by Los Angeles prosecutors for violating safety regulations that led to a horrifying workplace accident. A 62 year old employee at the company’s Santa Fe plant was performing maintenance in a 35-foot long pressure-cooking oven in 2012. While he was working in the oven, co-workers, who thought the man was in the bathroom, loaded the oven with multiple cans with about 12,000 pounds of tuna and turned it on.
A supervisor later noticed that the employee was missing. An announcement was made over the intercom and employees looked for him in the parking lot and in the facility. Two hours later, his severely burned body was found after the pressure cooker was turned off and opened. The pressure cooker reached a temperature of 270 degrees. The man had worked for the company for six years.
Officials say that the ovens were faulty and that the employee had no business trying to do maintenance on them. Allegedly, the accident victim was trying to fix one of the chains that runs underneath the oven. Cal/OSHA says that the equipment was broken because of neglect, and that Bumble Bee Foods did not perform maintenance duties like it should have.
The company as well as two employees, its plant operations director and former safety manager, were charged with three counts of violating Occupational Safety & Health rules that caused a death. The men could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if they are convicted on all charges. Bumble Bee Foods faces a fine of up to $1.5 million. Cal/OSHA cited Bumble Bee Foods for failing to properly assess the danger to employees posed by working in large ovens and fined it $74,000.
Bumble Bee Foods has appealed the penalties. It also said the company has improved its safety program after the death and that the company is devastated by the loss of their colleague, but disagree with the charges that have been filed against them. The company says that it’s not clear how the accident could have happened. It pointed out that it takes between 20 and 30 minutes to load the oven with the canned product that is sterilized in the oven. The accident victim was the man in charge of loading and unloading the oven. Once the baskets are finished, they are pulled out with a forklift. The employees who were charged are refusing to comment on the situation.
This gruesome death is one of many that will occur in the workplace this year. In 2013, there were 189 fatalities at California workplaces. Across the country, there were 4,585 on-the-job deaths. Many of these deaths were because of safety violations at work. In 2013, in California alone there were 14,984 violations and 6,426 citations issues because of improper safety in the workplace.
It’s always tragic when a person loses their life at work, but especially when the death occurs in such a horrifying and easily preventable manner. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that companies that do not make employee safety a top concern should be punished in both criminal and civil court. If you or a loved one has been injured at work, call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco personal injury attorney, at 415-896-1000 or 510-645-1000. In some cases, accident victims may be limited to workers’ compensation, but in other cases they may be able to bring a lawsuit in civil court. Call today to find out more about your legal rights and to schedule your free consultation.