The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not be issuing any fines to Amazon despite an investigation finding multiple safety risks at the company’s Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse facility where, late last year, a Category 3 tornado hit killing six people.
The announcement from the nation’s federal worker safety watchdog came on Tuesday. The investigation into the disaster revealed that Amazon had complied with minimal federal storm shelter guidelines, despite unsafe conditions. This is partly due to the fact that the bar is extremely low. As I reportedOSHA did last week not have any standards for severe-weather emergency plans. These plans are instead RecommendationPlease see the Occupational and Safety Health Act’s General Duty Clause. Without that firm requirement, OSHA leaves profit-driven companies to determine what is considered “safe enough” for their employees and the contractors that work with them.
The day of the storm brought many problems. OSHA’s investigation Found that while the facility did have a megaphone meant to allow for managers to “[a]ctivate the audible warning method to alert personnel about the site emergency,” it was locked up and inaccessible the night of the tornado. Instead, management walked through the 1.1 Million square-foot warehouse facility telling employees to shelter in the restrooms. Only the northern restroom was designated as a tornado shelter. Some employees didn’t know and chose to shelter in other, less secure, restrooms. According to reports, all of the workers who died were reported to have sheltered in the southern bathroom. Five of the workers who died on December 10th were not employees but contracted drivers who didn’t know where to shelter.
Amazon had a written plan of action for severe storms but it didn’t include plans for the likely events in Illinois. It contained information about hurricanes but no information on tornadoes.
The investigation also revealed that Amazon employees kept pushing the line to the very end. Managers began to direct employees to shelter just ten minutes after the tornado struck, despite warnings for severe tornadoes up until 36 hours earlier. In Suit cases Plaintiffs representing the decedents against the Edwardsville facility claim that Amazon refused schedule changes around the storm and that workers were warned that they would be fired if the didn’t come in or stay for their shifts. Workers claim that they were being threatened by termination in texts to their families. “Amazon won’t let us leave,” one text read.
“These tragic deaths have sparked discussions nationwide on the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans,” said OSHA’s Regional Administrator William Donovan in a public media release about the investigation. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement that Amazon is already doing more for emergency preparedness plans and will “carefully consider” OSHA’s recommendations. ”We believe our team did the right thing, moving people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued,” the company said in a statement. “Our buildings—including the Edwardsville delivery station—have emergency plans that identify exit routes and shelter areas.”
The Seattle-based mega-retailer is just the latest in a long line of employers and corporations that receive no or minimal penalties when employees are killed. Scientists believe that climate change is making storms more unpredictable and worse. However, it is becoming more evident that corporations cannot make responsible decisions about the safety and well-being of their workers in extreme heat, hurricanes, wildfires, or tornadoes. Companies will continue to make profits, but leave their employees vulnerable if there are no clear federal regulations and accountability.