The site of a roof collapse at an Amazon.com distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois.
UAV Base | Reuters
The Labor Department has ordered Amazon to review how it responds to severe weather events following an investigation into a deadly warehouse collapse in Illinois last year but is not levying a citation with fines or other penalties.
In December, an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, was severely damaged after a tornado ripped through the facility, causing the 1.1 million-square-foot building’s roof to collapse, while 40-foot-tall, 11-inch-thick walls on the sides of the building fell inward. Six workers were killed, most of whom were contracted delivery drivers.
The tragic event prompted criticism from lawmakers, as well as a probe by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is overseen by the Labor Department.
On Tuesday, OSHA investigators said they concluded that Amazon’s severe weather emergency procedures “met minimal safety guidelines for storm sheltering,” but that a series of safety risks were identified during the probe.
In a letter addressed to a manager at the Edwardsville warehouse, investigators said they discovered megaphones used to alert employees about an emergency were inaccessible and a plan for responding to severe weather events lacked site-specific information. Some Amazon employees didn’t know where the shelter was located inside the warehouse, the letter said.
Amazon is not required to respond to the letter, and it’s unclear if any mechanisms exist to ensure Amazon enacts the agency’s recommendations.
“Six workers died in this event, so that by itself should be a wake-up call for employers,” said Doug Parker, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, in a call with reporters. “We’re making recommendations because under our standards, there’s not a specific citation we can issue in light of the actions at Amazon. But much like other agencies within the government that make similar recommendations, many employers take them seriously.”
All six of the employees who died were sheltering in a bathroom in an area of the building that was hit by the storm. Aaron Priddy, an OSHA official who conducted the investigation, said it was unclear why those employees weren’t told to seek safety in the facility’s designated storm shelter, located in another part of the building.
“We know that there was confusion as to exactly where to report, although a large number of employees did report to the appropriate location and others did not,” Priddy said.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company did what it could to usher employees to safety as the fast-moving storm rolled in.
“Employees receive emergency response training, and that training is reinforced throughout the year,” 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.”
On April 1, the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Amazon’s labor practices. The probe specifically focuses on Amazon’s response to extreme weather events, including the Edwardsville warehouse collapse.