Bumble Bee still seeking answers on worker death

Bumble Bee President and CEO Chris Lischewski is offering some new details about the accidental death of a worker at the company’s Sante Fe Springs facility, but the company still cannot explain just why the employee died.

“At this point, it is still not clear how this could have happened,” Lischewski said in an open letter, posted on the company’s website under the title “Bumble Bee Mourns Loss of Employee Jose Melena.”

Melena, 62, a six-year employee of the company, was found dead on Oct. 11 inside a pressure cooker at the facility. Police have ruled out foul play, but Lischewski said it may be months before a formal investigation can determine exactly how Melena wound up inside the cooker.

In the letter, Lischewski described the cooker and its role in the tuna-canning process. The cooker, called a “retort” at the facility, is a cylindrical chamber about 38 feet long. Near the end of the canning process, the company uses the retorts to sterilize sealed cans of product before the final labeling process.

Melena’s job, Lichewski said, was to use a pallet jack to load 12 to 14 baskets of canned product, then remove them with a forklift.

“Jose was a skilled operator and had worked with this equipment for many years,” Lichewski wrote.

The company discarded the canned product that was in the retort with Melena, even though none of it was contaminated, Lichewski wrote.

To the company’s knowledge, he wrote, this sort of accident has never happened before. Bumble Bee is working with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA) to determine what happened, but Lichewski wrote that the investigation could take “several months.” Meanwhile, he said, Bumble Bee is retraining all personnel and reviewing all of its safety procedures.



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