Amazon won't face fines and other penalties following the collapse of an Illinois warehouse that killed six workers during a tornado, CNBC has reported. However, the US Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asked Amazon to review its procedures after discovering issues with its Emergency Action Plan (EAP).
The storm that ripped across six states in December, well outside of tornado season, was one of the deadliest in years. Despite tornado warnings from the National Weather Service 36 hours ahead of the event, Amazon continued to operate the Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse. It was in the middle of a shift change when the tornado touched down with wind speeds up to 150 MPH, destroying the south side of the building.
OSHA investigators concluded that Amazon's severe weather emergency guidelines "met minimal safety guidelines for storm sheltering." Because of that, "under our standards, there’s not a specific citation we can issue in light of the actions at Amazon," OSHA's assistant secretary of labor Doug Parker told 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.
OSHA identified some workplace conditions as "risk factors," though. A megaphone to be used to activate shelter-in-place procedures was locked in a cage and inaccessible, and some employees didn't recall the location of the designated shelter-in-place location. In addition, Amazon's EAP had a section for severe weather emergencies, but it wasn't customized with specific instructions for the Edwardsville facility. To that end, investigators recommended that Amazon "voluntarily" take steps to address the issues.
An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that it would "carefully consider" the recommendations. "Employees receive emergency response training, and that training is reinforced throughout the year. 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.”
While Amazon avoided penalties from OSHA, it's facing a separate probe in Congress and multiple lawsuits. The House Oversight committee announced it was investigating Amazon Warehouse safety earlier this month, saying it "seeks to fully understand the events that led to the tragedy at Amazon’s Edwardsville facility." The company is also facing multiple lawsuits from several injured workers and the family of one of the people killed in the collapse.