The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a hazard alert letter to Amazon after a warehouse collapse caused by a tornado where six workers died.
The tornado attacked Amazon’s Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse in December 2021, killing six contractors and seriously injuring another.
After the warehouse collapsed following the Category 3 tornado, OSHA issued no fines or citations, claiming Amazon’s severe weather emergency measures fulfilled minimal statutory safety criteria for storm shelters.
However, OSHA said its inspection following the incident detailed items that raised “concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies.”
OSHA’s Regional Administrator William Donovan said: “These tragic deaths have sparked discussions nationwide on the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans.”
“Employers should re-evaluate their emergency plans for the safest shelter-in-place locations and prepare before an emergency to ensure workers know where to go and how to keep themselves safe in the event of a disaster.”
Employers must keep their workplaces free of recognized major hazards under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, and the agency writes notifications about conditions that raise concerns about the potential harm to employees.
The letter added that OSHA recommended Amazon voluntarily take “necessary steps to eliminate or materially reduce your employees’ exposure to” the severe weather-related risk factors.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said OSHA’s investigation “did not find any violations or causes for citations, but we’re constantly looking to innovate and improve our safety measures and have already begun conducting additional safety and emergency preparedness drills at our sites and will carefully consider any OSHA recommendation that we have not already.”
She added the tornado “was extreme and very sudden… we believe our team did the right thing, moving people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued.”
The OSHA letter suggests three areas for improvement at the Edwardsville warehouse, including ensuring all employees receive training and engage in emergency weather drills and that the severe weather emergency plan clearly identifies all audible warning devices and their locations.
After getting emergency notifications on their cell phones from authorities, some Amazon employees told that they were urged to take refuge in toilets by Amazon supervisors.
Employees were told to shelter in place at a designated assembly area in the front of the building, according to the corporation.’