Record penalty for US tuna company after accidental death of employee in oven

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - California-based canned tuna company Bumble Bee Foods will have to pay a record US$6 million (S$8.4 million) after the death of one of its employees, who was accidentally cooked in an industrial oven in 2012.

The penalty, part of a settlement announced on Wednesday, is the largest ever for a workplace safety violation in California involving a single worker.

Jose Melena, 62, entered a 10.6-metre cylindrical pressurised steam cooker as part of his regular job duties on Oct 11, 2012, before co-workers, who did not realise he was inside, loaded the oven and turned it on, trapping and killing him.

Half of the US$6-million penalty will go to replacing the outdated tuna ovens so that workers will never again need to enter them, for maintenance or any other reason, according to a statement from the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The family of Melena, who worked and died at the tuna giant's Santa Fe Springs, California, plant, will receive US$1.5 million in restitution.

Bumble Bee will also have to make a public statement conceding guilt as part of the settlement.

The plant's director and former safety manager will also need to issue a statement conceding guilt, in addition to paying fines and performing community service.