Seneca Foods Corp. is facing felony criminal charges for violating state Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards that allegedly resulted in the death of a longtime worker.
Paul Seay, 63, of Ceres was killed Feb. 5, 2007, when a stack of dense cardboard fell on him while he worked at Seneca's plant on Finch Road in Modesto. The cannery processes fruit grown in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Cal-OSHA fined Seneca $95,000 for two violations stemming from the accident that are classified "willful and serious." The Stanislaus County district attorney's office filed a criminal complaint against the company last month, with a preliminary hearing set for April 7.
No individuals are named in the case; the company at-large is charged with a felony violation of a section of the California labor code. Neither Seay's family nor officials from the district attorney's office could be reached.
Seneca attorney John Exner said Thursday he had no comment on the case. He would not say if the company is appealing the Cal-OSHA citations.
According to the Cal-OSHA report, a security guard heard a loud noise in a warehouse at the plant on the weekend before the accident.
When the guard went to investigate, he found that three bundles of cardboard used for fruit packaging had fallen into one of the warehouse aisles. Each bundle of cardboard is about 4 feet tall and weighs 515 pounds.
The security guard documented the problem and reported that a nearby stack of corrugate in the aisle was "teetering" and appeared ready to fall, according to the report. He alerted supervisors.
At 6:40 a.m. the following Monday, the plant's supervisor of shipping told Seay, who worked as a material and fiber handler, to clean up the fallen debris from the aisle, according to the report.
Seay used a forklift to remove two of the bundles, then got off the forklift to continue cleaning the aisle by hand. As he was picking up the scattered cardboard, the report said, the bundles of leaning corrugate that were documented by the guard a couple of days earlier collapsed onto Seay.
His chest was crushed when the cardboard stacked on wooden pallets pinned him for an unknown length of time, according to the Stanislaus County coroner's office.
Other employees did not see the accident, but they found Seay and tried to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at Memorial Medical Center at 8:41 a.m., 40 minutes after an ambulance was called to the plant, according to the coroner's office.
Seay had worked at the cannery for 45 years. It originally was owned by Tri Valley Growers, then operated as Signature Fruit Co. from 2001 to 2006, when Seneca bought it.
Cal-OSHA concluded that two factors likely led to Seay's death: the corrugate material not being stacked properly, and supervisors failing to keep workers out of an "immediate hazardous area."
The safety agency can refer cases to local prosecutors. Cal-OSHA has prosecuted about one-third of all willful violations of workplace safety laws resulting in death between 1990 and 2003.
In 2004, a dairy farmer from Merced County was acquitted after state prosecutors, with the agreement of the local district attorney, filed safety violation charges against him for the deaths of two workers who drowned in a lagoon of liquid manure.
Cal-OSHA said 453 people were killed on the job in California in 2005.
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at email@example.com or 238-4574.