Amazon Won’t Face Federal Action Over Tornado Warehouse Collapse

Amazon will not face any penalties or citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over the tornado that effectively destroyed one of its warehouses, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries.

The OSHA is a regulatory agency of the US Department of Labor, and began its investigation in mid December after a tornado with estimated wind speeds of over 155mph smashed into the Amazon warehouse, known as DLI4, in Edwardsville, Illinois.

The impact was so severe it killed six people, most of whom were contracted Amazon delivery drivers who were sheltering in a bathroom in an area of the building that was impacted by the storm.

Tornado deaths

The deaths occurred when 40 foot high, 11 inch thick walls on both sides of the DLI4 warehouse collapsed inward, resulting in the roof collapsing downward.

One other person was injured, and 45 people were rescued.

The tornado likely formed in the parking lot of DLI4 then rolled through the site, Amazon said at the time.

The US was badly hit by tornados in December, which impacted parts of the neighbouring state of Illinois, (below Chicago) and killed at least 64 people in the US state of Kentucky.

Following the Amazon warehouse destruction, the OSHA began its investigation. It has the power to issue citations and propose monetary penalties if violations of workplace safety and/or health regulations are found.

However this week, CNBC reported that Amazon won’t face any OSHA penalties after the warehouse collapse.

The Labor Department on Tuesday reportedly sent a letter to Amazon, ordering it to review its severe weather policies, after its investigation revealed safety risks.

According to CNBC, OSHA investigators 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.

Investigators reportedly 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 also didn’t know where the shelter was located inside the warehouse.

But no fines or other penalties have been issued.

“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, was quoted by CNBC as saying 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,” said Parker. “But much like other agencies within the government that make similar recommendations, many employers take them seriously.”

Amazon response

Meanwhile Aaron Priddy, an OSHA official who conducted the investigation, was quoted by CNBC as saying it was unclear why those killed 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 reportedly said.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel meanwhile was quoted as saying 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 reportedly 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 1 April, the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Amazon’s labour practices, CNBC reported.

That investigation specifically focuses on Amazon’s response to extreme weather events, including the Edwardsville warehouse collapse.

The tragedy meanwhile has seen the family of 26 year old Austin McEwen, who was one of six victims, sue Amazon.

They alleged the firm opted not to evacuate workers from the facility in a timely manner as it sought to keep them fulfilling orders.

McEwen had worked as an independent contractor making deliveries for Amazon, and had sought shelter in the bathroom at the facility, where all of the dead were found.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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