On April 26, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it issued a hazard alert letter to Amazon after six contractors were fatally injured and another severely injured when a December 10, 2021, tornado struck the company’s Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse. OSHA is requiring Amazon to review its severe weather emergency procedures.
After interviewing Amazon and contract employees at the Edwardsville site, agency inspectors found that:
- Some employees did not recall the designated severe weather shelter-in-place location at the facility.
- A megaphone, identified by the facility’s emergency action plan (EAP) to be used to activate the shelter-in-place procedure, was locked in a cage and not accessible.
- Managers instead verbally communicated warnings to warehouse personnel, instructing them to take shelter in a restroom.
- In response to local weather alerts and tornado warnings approximately 10 minutes before the tornado’s touchdown, Amazon managers began directing employees to go to the restroom.
- Some employees were unaware the designated tornado shelter was a restroom located on the north side of the building and instead took shelter in the restroom on the building’s south side. Five of the deceased and the injured worker were independent direct service provider delivery contractors who took shelter in a bathroom on the warehouse’s south side, near the facility’s loading docks.
- Personnel also did not recall ever participating in any severe weather or shelter-in-place drills.
After the tornado struck the facility, six delivery service provider (DSP) employees were fatally injured, along with one DSP employee who was critically wounded, according to the agency. Three other DSP employees sustained minor injuries.
“These tragic deaths have sparked discussions nationwide on the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans,” William Donovan, OSHA’s Chicago regional administrator, said in an agency statement.
“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.”
OSHA inspectors found that Amazon’s written EAP contained a section addressing severe weather emergencies, but the plan was not customized with specific instructions for hazards expected at the facility. The plan contained elements for hazards that would not be encountered in Edwardsville, such as a hurricane, and did not specifically identify the location of the designated shelter area for the facility, according to OSHA.
There is no federal standard requiring severe weather emergency plans, but OSHA recommends them under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
In its hazard alert letter, OSHA recommended that Amazon:
- Ensure that all employees are provided training and participate in emergency weather drills.
- Include site-specific information in severe weather emergency plans.
- Clearly identify all audible warning devices and locations of devices in the severe weather emergency plan, and ensure that devices are readily accessible.
Three of Amazon’s contractors that employed the fatally injured employees also received hazard alert letters: AB&C D.A.D Inc. of Belleville, Boxify Logistics of St. Louis, and XSeed Delivery of Bolingbrook. The sixth worker who was fatally injured was employed by CBRE of Seattle as an in-house contractor assigned to the Edwardsville facility.