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Tuna company criminally charged after fatal industrial accident

Following the tragic death of a California worker at a tuna processing plant in 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company in 2013 for safety violations that led to the death of a worker. However, that was not the end of it, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney recently reported that criminal charges were filed against the company and two of its employees. The charges are related to an allegedly willful violation of safety regulations that led to the fatal industrial accident.

According to reports, the tragedy occurred on an October day in 2012 when a 62-year-old worker was locked in a pressurized steam cooker that is used for sterilizing cans containing tuna. Co-workers also entered the 35-foot-long oven to load the cans of tuna onto trolleys, but they failed to notice the other worker in the rear section of the oven. When they were done, they closed the oven door and initiated the sterilization process that takes approximately two hours.

The body of the worker who had been in the employ of the company for approximately six years was discovered by a colleague when the oven was opened after the sterilization process was completed. The state is charging the company, a former safety manager and the director of plant operations with a felony count each in relation to the death of the worker. The OSHA citations in 2013 accused the employer of willfully neglecting to identify the ovens as permit-requiring confined spaces, along with the failure to post warning signs to ensure workers' awareness of the dangers of entering the ovens.

The arraignment of the defendants is scheduled for a date toward the end of May, and, if found guilty, the two individuals may face jail time and the company may face a fine of up to $1.5 million. The district attorney asserted that worker safety is regarded as a serious matter, and any major industrial accident will be investigated. Regardless of criminal charges filed against employers, families who lost loved ones in such accidents may face financial difficulties, and they may pursue financial recovery of end-of-life expenses and lost income. This is done by filing claims for death benefits with the California workers' compensation insurance fund.

Source: ehstoday.com, "Breaking News: LA Prosecutor Files Criminal Charges Against Bumble Bee Foods in Death of Employee", Sandy Smith, April 27, 2015

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