By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OPA/newsreleases/OSHA22599Amazon%20HAL%20-%205a1%20Letter%204.26.22.pdf hazard alert letter to Amazon.com Inc on Tuesday after six contractors were fatally injured and another was severely injured when a tornado struck Amazon’s Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse in December 2021.
OSHA did not issue any violations or citations after the warehouse collapse following the Category 3 tornado, saying that Amazon’s severe weather emergency procedures met minimal federal safety guidelines for storm sheltering. But OSHA said its inspection following the incident detailed items that raised “concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies.”
OSHA added the company “should make improvements to further protect workers and contract drivers in future emergencies.”
“These tragic deaths have sparked discussions nationwide on the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans,” said OSHA’s Regional Administrator William Donovan, 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.”
Under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers must keep their workplaces free from recognized serious hazards and the agency sends letters about issues that raise concerns about the potential risk to employees.
The letter added that OSHA recommended Amazon voluntarily take “necessary steps to eliminate or materially reduce your employees’ exposure to” the severe weather related risk factors.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel noted 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.”
She added the tornado “was extreme and very sudden… we believe our team did the right thing, moving people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued.”
The OSHA letter recommends three areas for improvement at the Edwardsville warehouse, including ensuring all employees are provided training and participate in emergency weather drills and all audible warning devices and device locations should be clearly identified in the severe weather emergency plan.
Five of the six workers killed in the devastating storm were independent delivery contractors who took shelter in a bathroom on the warehouse’s south side.
Several employees told Reuters at the time that they had been directed to shelter in bathrooms by Amazon managers after receiving emergency alerts on mobile phones from authorities. The company said employees were directed to shelter in place at a designated assembly area at the front of the building.
OSHA said three direct service providers that employed the workers killed will also receive hazard alert letters encouraging them to review severe weather procedures.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis)