OSHA asks Amazon to improve safety in severe weather after warehouse collapse

Workplace safety officials have ordered Amazon to review its severe weather policy and take new precautions after six workers died in a warehouse collapse in Illinois.

letter released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday highlighted some of the problems with Amazon’s response to a direct tornado hit in Edwardsville in December. The megaphone that was supposed to be used to alert workers to severe weather was locked up and unavailable, and some workers told OSHA investigators they were never told where to take shelter in such a situation.

But officials said Amazon complied with “minimum federal safety guidelines” in severe weather and chose not to penalize the tech giant for the loss of life. All six of the dead workers worked for outside contractors who handled Amazon deliveries. The seventh worker was seriously injured.

“Amazon and all employers must exceed the minimum requirements,” Doug Parker, head of OSHA, said in a call to reporters on Tuesday. “Employers must have a plan that will protect all workers and all people on site in the event of a natural disaster.”

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement that the tornado was “extreme and very sudden” and that “our team did the right thing by sending people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued.”

“The OSHA investigation did not uncover any violations or cause for fines, but we are constantly looking to innovate and improve our safety measures and have already begun conducting additional safety and emergency preparedness drills,” Nantel said.

According to a “danger alert” letter sent to Amazon, managers began telling workers to go to the bathroom for shelter about 10 minutes before the tornado struck. The designated shelter on site was a toilet on the north side of the building, but 10 workers, including five of those who died, ended up in a bathroom on the south side of the facility, next to the loading bay.

“Amazon and all employers must exceed the minimum requirements.”

– Doug Parker, CEO of OSHA

Aaron Priddy, OSHA regional director, said the tornado hit right next to this part of the warehouse, blowing off the roof and bringing down the western wall. Priddy said investigators couldn’t determine exactly why the workers were there—because they were told to go to the toilet (the wrong one in this case), or because it was the most logical place to go next to the loading bay without doing anything else. structured spaces.

“We know there has been confusion about exactly where to report,” said Priddy, an Amazon letter writer. “It just highlights the importance of planning ahead in a very critical way.”

Priddy wrote that Amazon’s emergency response plan was not tailored to weather events that could occur in Edwardsville. Instead of being “tailored to specific instructions,” the plan was generalized to include scenarios that were unlikely to play out in the area, such as a hurricane. Amazon’s plan outlines escape routes from the warehouse, but does not specify a shelter area.

But Priddy also said it’s inappropriate to link to Amazon. OSHA does not have a safety standard, particularly for severe weather conditions, but can fine a company under what it calls “common dutywhich generally states that employers have a duty to protect workers from harm.

Amazon has responded “in the way we would expect any employer to,” Priddy said. “But we have identified several opportunities where Amazon can improve its severe weather response plan.”

OSHA officials said Amazon needs to make sure everyone, including contractors, participates in severe weather drills and knows where to take shelter. They also said that Amazon should create written plans with site-specific recommendations for events like tornadoes, not just fires.

This story has been updated with comments from Amazon.

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