Cal/OSHA is investigating the Oct. 11 death of Bumble Bee Foods processing plant worker Jose Melena.
According to preliminary reports the 62-year-old Melena was cooked to death when he became trapped in a pressure cooker used to sterilize canned tuna. How he became stuck in the oven is still unclear and will be one of the subjects of Cal/OSHA’s inspection.
Melena, a six-year employee of the plant, was in charge of pushing baskets of sealed cans of tuna into the pressure cooker. He worked the overnight shift and was discovered in the steam oven by his coworkers at approximately 7 a.m.
Authorities initially reported that there was some sort of “industrial accident” at the plant in the 13100 block of Arctic Circle, according to Santa Fe Springs Fire Department Division Chief Michael Crook.
Crook said paramedics rushed to the plant and pronounced Melena dead as soon as they arrived. No one else was injured.
“This is a horrendous tragedy,” Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza told the Whittier Daily News. “Once all the facts are gathered, at that point a determination will be made if California health and safety regulations were violated.”
Family members said Melena worked the late shift, placing tuna in large steamers. They said they were shocked by his death but said they believe it was part of God’s plan.
His son, Antonio Melena, told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that the family is still trying to come to terms with what happened.
“It’s hard to believe what’s going on. And what’s happening. It’s just been really tough,” the son said. “He was just grateful he had a job, that he could pay his bills and provide food for his family.”
“The entire Bumble Bee Foods family is saddened by the tragic loss of our colleague, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Melena family,” said Pat Menke, vice president of human resources for Bumble Bee Foods.
The fatality investigation is expected to take 3-6 months.