Amazon won’t be fined or cited by US safety officials after a tornado caused one of its Illinois warehouses to collapse, killing six workers, according to a letter sent to Amazon on Tuesday from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA). The regulator says that it has a few recommendations for the company after its investigation, where it interviewed workers and reviewed records and the facility’s emergency action plan.
OSHA’s letter still flags a number of concerns with Amazon’s handling of the incident, including an unnecessarily convoluted process for raising the alarm. When the order to shelter in place first came through, managers had to yell to employees instead of using a megaphone since the megaphone was “locked in a cage and not accessible.” Some workers didn’t know where the designated shelter in the facility was, while others had never done a tornado drill.
Some Amazon workers have accused the company of not providing sufficient emergency training or communication at other facilities. One employee recalled having to yell evacuation orders to her coworkers in response to a chemical leak.
As OSHA describes it, the fatalities were a direct result of confusion between the facility’s two restroom locations. The designated shelter for the building was the facility’s northern restrooms, and according to the report, managers told employees to head to the restrooms around 10 minutes before the tornado touched down. However, some workers went to the southern restrooms instead, not knowing that they weren’t designated a shelter. According to a CNBC report, at least five of the six workers who were killed at the warehouse were sheltered in the southern restrooms.
Posted maps did show the correct shelter, but the written emergency action plan did not. OSHA also says that, while the plan had a section on severe weather, it wasn’t “customized with specific instructions associated with the anticipated hazards expected for this facility and it contained elements that would not be encountered in Edwardsville, IL, such as a hurricane.”
The regulator has recommended that Amazon voluntarily take steps to fix these issues, but that appears to be the end of its involvement. According to CNBC, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor said that “there’s not a specific citation [the agency] can issue in light of the actions at Amazon.”
The OSHA report doesn’t mention structural integrity issues at the warehouse, despite concerns raised by experts and an attorney working for the family of one of the workers killed. The attorney cites a structural engineer who said that the structural support columns might not have been properly installed, though the engineer warned that more analysis would be needed.
Although OSHA has ruled out legal action, the incident is still being investigated by other governmental agencies. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asked Amazon to turn over documents, information, and records about its emergency protocols.