U.S. regulators are asking Amazon to improve its procedures for dealing with severe weather like hurricanes and tornadoes that could threaten workers at its warehouses scattered across the country.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent a ‘hazard alert letter’ to the Seattle-based e-commerce giant on Tuesday following the agency’s investigation into the deadly collapse of a corporate warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois in December. Six people died and another was seriously injured in the tornado’s strike.
The investigation raised concerns about the potential risk to employees during extreme weather emergencies,” according to the letter sent to Amazon which OSHA made public.
The agency said its inspection found that while the company’s severe weather procedures met minimum federal storm shelter safety guidelines, the company still needed to protect further. its workers and contract employees. The letter requires Amazon to review its emergency procedures for severe weather, but the company will not face any fines or penalties.
In interviews with Amazon and contractors, OSHA officials found that some employees did not recall participating in extreme weather drills or the location of the facility’s shelter. Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel, however, said employees receive emergency response training, which is “reinforced throughout the year.”
“OSHA’s investigation found no violations or citations, but we are constantly looking to innovate and improve our safety measures and have already begun conducting safety and emergency preparedness drills. additional information on our sites and will carefully consider any OSHA recommendations that we don’t already have,” Nantel said.
Amazon noted workers at the warehouse, known as the “delivery station,” had little time to prepare when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning on Dec. 10. About 10 minutes before the tornado touched down, the agency said managers ordered workers to use the restroom in response to tornado warnings and other weather alerts.
But some employees unaware of the existence of the designated tornado shelter — restrooms on the north side of the building — went to a separate restroom on the hard-hit south end, the agency said. All the wounded and killed had taken refuge in the bathroom on the south side.
John Felton, senior vice president of global delivery services at Amazon, said in December that most of the 46 people in the warehouse were heading for shelter on the north side while a small group headed for the far end. south, where the loading docks were and the delivery vehicles were parked.
“The tornado that hit our delivery station was extreme and very sudden, with winds that were very much like Category 4 hurricane strength, and we believe our team did the right thing, moving people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued,” Nantel said.
During the inspection, the agency said it also reviewed the contractors’ safety and training records as well as the facility’s written “emergency action plan”. Officials disputed the plan, writing in the letter that it “was not customized with specific instructions” for the expected hazards at the Edwardsville site.
Although Amazon posted evacuation maps in the facility indicating the location of the designated shelter, officials found that the written plan did not specifically identify the location of the shelter in the warehouse. Nantel said company buildings have “emergency plans that identify escape routes and shelter areas.”
Separately, officials said a megaphone meant to activate the site’s shelter-in-place procedure was locked in a cage and not accessible, leading officials to verbally instruct workers where to take shelter.
“These tragic deaths have sparked nationwide discussions about the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans,” William Donovan, OSHA Chicago Regional Administrator, said in a statement. “Employers should reevaluate 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 protect themselves in the event of a disaster.”
The agency recommended Amazon make its warning devices easily accessible, ensure all employees participate in drills for emergency weather events, and include site-specific information in its emergency plans. emergency. He said he would also send danger alert letters to three delivery service providers, who employed the injured worker and five of the deceased employees.