Workplace security officials have ordered Amazon to review its harsh weather policies and take new precautions after six workers died in a crash at a Illinois warehouse.
The letter issued by the Labor Inspectorate on Tuesday outlined some issues with Amazon’s handling of a direct tornado hit in Edwardsville in December. The megaphone that would be used to warn workers of severe weather was locked and inaccessible, and some workers told OSHA investigators that they had never been told where to take shelter in such a situation.
But officials said Amazon had met “minimal federal safety guidelines” for severe weather and chose not to fine the technology giant over the deaths. All six workers who died worked for external contractors handling Amazon supplies. A seventh worker was seriously injured.
“Amazon and all employers should exceed the minimum requirements,” Doug Parker, head of OSHA, said in an interview with reporters Tuesday. “Employers must have a plan that protects all workers and all people on the property when a disaster strikes.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the “hazard alert” letter sent to Amazon, managers began telling workers to go to the bathroom to get shelter about 10 minutes before the tornado hit. The designated shelter-in-place location was a restroom on the north side of the building, but 10 workers, including five of those who died, ended up in a bathroom at the south end of the facility, near a loading dock.
“Amazon and all employers should go beyond the minimum requirements.”
– Doug Parker, Head of OSHA
Aaron Priddy, an area director for OSHA, said the tornado hit right near this area of the warehouse, took off the roof and collapsed the western wall. Priddy said investigators could not determine with certainty why workers ended up there – because they were told to get to a bathroom (in this case the wrong one), or because it was the most logical place to go near a charging station without other structured spaces.
“We know there was confusion about exactly where to report,” said Priddy, who wrote the letter to Amazon. “It really underscores the importance of advance planning.”
Priddy wrote that Amazon’s emergency plan was not tailored to weather events likely to hit Edwardsville. Instead of being “adapted with specific instructions”, the plan was generalized and included scenarios that were unlikely to unfold in the area, like a hurricane. Amazon’s plan noted evacuation routes for the warehouse, but did not identify the shelter-in-place area.
But Priddy also said it was not appropriate to issue a quote against Amazon. OSHA does not have a safety standard for particularly severe weather, but can fine a company under what is known as “general duty,” which broadly states that employers have an obligation to keep workers safe from injury.
Amazon responded “the way we would expect of any employer,” Priddy said. “But we identified several options where Amazon could improve their severe weather response plan.”
OSHA officials said Amazon needs to make sure everyone, including contractors, participates in hard weather drills and knows where to shelter in place. They also said that Amazon should make written plans with site-specific guidelines for events like tornadoes and not just fires.