It was a typical October morning at the Bumblebee Tuna plant in Santa Fe Springs, California. Just before 5 a.m., maintenance employee Jose Melena was instructed to repair a chain inside one of the 54 inch by 36 foot tuna ovens. Not long after he was inside and the repair was underway, a second employee began loading the oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna. Assuming Melena was in the restroom at the time, the employee switched on the oven and the tuna began to cook.
A supervisor soon noticed Melena was missing, setting off a search throughout the facility and the parking lot, where Melena’s car was found, untouched. After searching for an hour and a half, the boiler operator suggested checking the last oven that had been loaded, which had reached 270 degrees. Employees waited an additional half an hour to let the oven cool down before they could open it. Sadly, Melena was indeed found inside near the exit, having suffered a terrible fate.
Employees across America service machines every day, which can be dangerous if the correct procedures are not followed, as was the case with the Bumblebee Tuna tragedy. Many serious injuries, even fatalities, have occurred when workers thought a machine they were servicing or its power source was turned off. Machines can unexpectedly start up because of stored energy that was not properly released or by another employee who didn’t realize it wasn’t safe to turn on. These types of incidents can be avoided by lockout-tagout (LOTO), which disables the equipment and prevents the release of hazardous energy while service and maintenance is performed.