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Cal/OSHA hands down large fines over fatal accident at tuna plant

Back in October, our workers' compensation defense blog reported on a horrific industrial accident at a food processing plant here in Southern California that took the life of one worker and left the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) searching for answers.

In recent developments, the state agency released the results of its official investigation earlier this month, placing much of the blame for the incident squarely on the employer of the deceased worker.

The accident in question involved 62-year-old Jose M., who was working a late shift at the Bumble Bee tuna plant in Santa Fe Springs when he became trapped in a large commercial oven known as a retort machine.

While paramedics were immediately summoned to the Bumble Bee plant following the discovery of Jose M. by his co-workers, it was too late. Sadly, Jose M., a father of six, was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the Cal/OSHA report, Jose M. likely entered the 4.5-foot by 36-foot retort machine to make a quick repair or adjustment to a chain when the door somehow closed behind him.

The report goes on to cite Bumble Bee for six violations -- five for serious violations and one for a general workplace violation -- and fines of nearly $74,000.

"Employees entered the retort ovens to perform maintenance duties and/or make adjustments to a chain inside the ovens," reads the Cal/OSHA report. "This was an unsafe practice which exposed employees to safety hazards for many years.

Specifically, Cal/OSHA investigators uncovered some of the following violations during their inspection of the fatal workplace accident:

  • Failure to perform inspections of the plant's energy control procedures in the production area
  • Failure to ascertain whether the ovens used were "permit-required confined spaces"
  • Failure to post signs or other notifications alerting employees to the confined space of the ovens 
  • Failure to provide the necessary confined space training to employees

For its part, Bumble Bee indicated that it has already conducted a comprehensive safety review after receiving the Cal/OSHA report.

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

Stay tuned for updates on this story from our workers' compensation defense law firm ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Source: The Los Angeles Daily News, "Bumble Bee Foods cited over worker killed in industrial oven in Santa Fe Springs," Brian Day, May 8, 2013

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