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Employee burns to death inside industrial pressure cooker; Bumble Bee tuna processing plant cited and fined

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Bumble Bee Foods has been cited and fined after a state investigation into the death of a plant worker.

The body of 62-year-old Jose Melena was found last October inside an industrial pressure cooker at the company's tuna processing plant in Santa Fe Springs, California.

The Daily News reports that Melena's body was discovered inside the oven — an industrial pressure cooker used to cook canned tuna — and that an autopsy determined that he died from burns, according to Los Angeles County Department of Coroner officials.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued six citations carrying nearly $74,000 in fines. The agency cited five workplace safety violations — four deemed "serious" and one deemed "general."

Cal/OSHA determined Bumble Bee failed to take proper safety precautions or properly assess the danger posed to its employees while working inside the large ovens. The Daily News reports that the citations indicate Melena, a 6-year employee at the facility, and a father of six, entered the cooker to make a repair:

Melena, whose job was to load the ovens with large baskets stacked with tuna, had entered one of the ovens to make a repair or make an adjustment on a chain inside the machine...

Melena had been assigned to load a particular oven on the morning of his death, according to the Cal OSHA document. He entered the 54-inch by 36-foot oven to make an adjustment to a chain inside. 

Representatives of San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods LLC acknowledged receiving the citations in a written statement, reports the Daily News.

"We will be reviewing the citations with Cal/OSHA representatives in the coming weeks to resolve any disagreements regarding the citations," the statement said. "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. "

The newspaper also reports the facility had no safety violations on record prior to Melena's death, but that investigators learned of other worker injuries — including a finger amputation and a fractured skull — that were never reported to the agency as required by law.