A federal agency’s inspection of a warehouse facility in Illinois in the Amazon, where six people died last year during a tornado “raised concerns” about employee safety, but the regulatory agency stopped issuing fines or sanctions against the e-commerce giant.
Six people were killed in December last year when a tornado smashed through the massive Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois. The 11-inch concrete walls collapsed and the 40-foot roof collapsed, destroying a football field section of the 1 million-square-foot building.
In a “Hazard Alert Letter” to Amazon, published Tuesday, the Labor Inspectorate wrote that its inspection of the facility “raised concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies.”
In interviews with Amazon and contract staff, OSHA officials found that some employees could not remember ever participating in severe weather or shelter shelters on site, and some did not know where the designated warehouse was.
DECEMBER:Victims identified after 6 die in Amazon warehouse exploded by tornado in Illinois
EARLIER:Dozens of dreaded dead in American tornadoes, storms; The roof of the Amazon department store is collapsing in Illinois
Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for Amazon, however, said employees receive emergency preparedness training, which is “reinforced throughout the year.”
The warehouse’s tornado shelter was on the north toilet, but some employees sought shelter in the south toilet instead. All those who were injured or dead were in the bathroom on the south side of the warehouse.
Amazon had issued evacuation maps at the facility showing the location of the designated shelter, but officials found that Amazon’s written emergency plan did not “specifically identify” the shelter’s location in the warehouse.
In addition, the emergency plan was “not adapted with specific instructions” for the hazards expected at the Edwardsville site. Amazon executives were also to use a megaphone to ask employees to seek shelter, but it was locked inside a cage and not accessible, the letter said.
The House Committee of Oversight and Reform launched a study of Amazon’s work practices on April 1 after the warehouse collapsed.
“During the recent tornado attacks in Edwardsville, Illinois, six workers died after Amazon allegedly threatened employees and contractors with dismissal if they left work and sought safety during the dangerous storm,” committee members wrote in a statement.
An Amazon employee who died in the warehouse collapse wrote a text message to his girlfriend, “Amazon will not let us go,” before his death, The Intercept reported.
OSHA listed a number of steps Amazon could “voluntarily take” to reduce its employees’ exposure to unsafe conditions during weather emergencies in the letter, but imposed no fines or penalties against the Seattle-based company.
Starring: Associated Press