Amazon Urged to Review Emergency Plans in Wake of Deadly Tornado

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Amazon.com Inc. should better prepare workers for extreme weather events, according to federal regulators who investigated a deadly tornado strike on a company warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois.

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The storm ripped through the facility in December, killing six workers and injuring several others, prompting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch a probe. At the time, Amazon said the facility complied with all construction regulations and that proper safety procedures were followed when the tornado struck. But several workers told Bloomberg that training for such events was minimal and mostly entailed pointing out emergency exits and assembly points.

An OSHA report released on Tuesday echoed those concerns. The agency said a bullhorn that was supposed to be used to tell workers to take cover was locked up in a cage and inaccessible. In interviews with investigators, some employees couldn’t recall ever participating in emergency drills and said they mistakenly took shelter in a bathroom on the south side of the building rather than in designated restrooms on the north side.

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OSHA didn’t levy any fines since emergency safety plans are recommended not required. But the agency urged Amazon to review and improve its emergency procedures.

“These tragic deaths have sparked discussions nationwide on the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans,” said William Donovan, OSHA’s regional administrator in Chicago. “Employers should re-evaluate 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 keep themselves safe in the event of a disaster.”

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The warehouse in Edwardsville, near St. Louis, was damaged when a string of tornadoes ripped through six states, leaving a trail of destruction that stretched more than 200 miles (322 km). The twister struck during Amazon’s busy holiday shopping season, prompting outcries from workers who have long accused the company of putting the timely shipping of products before their safety and well-being.

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Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said warehouse managers did their best given the sudden, severe storm.

“Employees receive emergency response training, and that training is reinforced throughout the year,” she 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.”

Copyright 2022 Bloomberg.

Topics
Catastrophe
Natural Disasters
Windstorm
Amazon

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