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How A Bumble Bee Foods Employee Got Cooked To Death In An Oven

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A report has come out explaining how an employee of Bumble Bee Foods ended up getting cooked to death in an industrial oven last October.

When the lifeless body of Jose Melena, 62, was found inside an oven at the Santa Fe Springs company—about 15 miles southeast of Los Angeles—last fall, workers and the CEO said something had to have gone horribly wrong for such a deadly accident to occur. A report from Cal-OSHA obtained by the Los Angeles Times explains exactly what happened and why Bumble Bee Foods is getting fined $74,000 for six safety violations connected to Melena's death.

Melena had been working for the company for five years. His job was loading the 54-inch by 36-foot ovens with metal baskets full of tuna cans. The ovens help to sterilize the aluminum.

Melena was starting his 4 am shift on October 11 when his supervisor ordered him to load an oven. He entered the oven to make a repair or adjust a chain. He left the pallet jack that he was using to load the oven outside. A second employee came upon his pallet jack and assumed that Melena was using the restroom. This employee loaded the oven with baskets.

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Around that time, the supervisor asked the employee why he was using the pallet jack and began asking employees if they had seen Melena. They called his name on the intercom and began searching for him. The search went on for an hour-and-a-half, and they found his vehicle was still inside the parking lot.

A boiler operator suggested they check the last oven that had been loaded. They had to wait 30 minutes for the oven to cool down before they could open it, but that's when they found Melena's body at the "exit" side of the oven. Firefighters pronounced him dead at the scene.

Bumble Bee Foods was given "serious" citations for failing to evaluate and identify the 10 ovens in the production area as hazardous and permit-required spaces. The company was also faulted for not implementing a program to address safety precautions while working inside a large oven, which is required by law. It was also faulted for not informing workers about the areas with "danger" signs.

The company released a statement, saying, "We will be reviewing the citations with Cal/OSHA representatives in the coming weeks to resolve any disagreements regarding the citations." It added: "Safety is a top priority; we are cooperating fully with authorities, including Cal/OSHA, and have reviewed all safety procedures with plant employees and stressed the importance of following procedures to maximize employee safety. "

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