Citing a confined space violation along with six other citations Cal/OSHA fined Bumble Bee Foods with penalties of $74,000. In October , 2014 an employee at the Bumble Bee Foods manufacturing plant in Santa Fe Springs California, Jose Melena, became trapped in a pressure cooking machine and was literally cooked to death.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) began an investigation to find out what the cause of Melena’s death. A 25-page report on the investigation was released at that time detailing the events that led to the fatal accident.
Melena, who had been employed at the plant for five years, had the responsibility of loading cans of tuna into the 36 foot ovens that are used to process the tuna and also to sterilize aluminum cans in which the tuna is packaged. On the day of the accident Melena was given the task of loading one of the ovens, but as he worked he discovered a problem with the oven and went in to attempt to repair or adjust it.
Another employee saw the pallet jack that Melena left outside the machine, and assuming Melena had gone to the bathroom, decided to use the pallet jack to load the baskets containing the tuna cans into the machine, unaware that Melena was inside the oven. A supervisor noticed the second employee loading the oven and inquired as to the whereabouts of Melena. After an hour and a half search, Melena’s body was finally discovered inside the oven.
Bumble Bee Foods was issued citations for serious violations including failure to evaluate and identify the ten ovens like the one in which Melena was trapped as hazardous, permit-required confined spaces, a clear confined space violation. The company was also cited for not identifying dangerous areas with signage and not implementing a safety plan for working in the ovens according to standards for confined space entry. This latter offense also resulted in a confined space violation.
A confined space violation pertains to the inappropriate preparation of the space as well as a stated plan to rescue or respond to incidents. Because of a number of fatalities related to confined space violations in the state in recent years, Cal/OSHA has initiated a statewide Confined Space Special Emphasis Initiative to help promote awareness of the hazards of working in confined spaces. The confined space violation program also involves the education of workers and employers on how to prevent injuries and deaths by following the proper safety procedures. By following OSHA standards related to confined space entry – such as training for both supervisors and workers, clearly labeling the dangerous spaces, creating and following safety plans for working in a confined space including obtaining the necessary permits, and developing an emergency response plan – serious accidents and the resulting injuries and fatalities can be prevented.
Both the Cal/OSHA website at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh and the OSHA website at www.osha.gov have information available on the regulations regarding confined space entry including permit-required confined spaces, and on the hazards and safety procedures to follow to prevent those hazards when working in confined spaces.