A federal government agency released a letter on Tuesday, April 25, 2022, that it sent to Amazon executives asking them to review their severe weather emergency procedures following an investigation into the tornado that struck a downstate Amazon Illinois distribution center Dec. 10 killing six people and injuring dozens of others.
The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) late afternoon on April 26, 2022, released its findings following a safety protocol investigation of a 115,000-foot structure that collapsed during a tornado that struck the warehouse with workers inside when meteorological warnings were issued up to a day before of an impending tornado to strike that area. The letter from OSHA’s Area Director to Amazon noted that, “Amazon managers began directing employees to go to the restroom in response to local weather alerts and tornado warnings approximately 10 minutes prior to the tornado’s touch down.”
Jack Casciato, partner at Clifford Law Offices who represents the family of a delivery driver killed in that warehouse collapse, said that his office is conducting its own investigation with a deep dive into what occurred prior to, during and after the fatal event that he said was “preventable.”
“It is OSHA’s duty as mandated by Congress to set standards that relate to the implementation of safe work practices, and it’s clear from today’s letter that Amazon was deficient in several areas, as indicated in the OSHA letter to Amazon,” Casciato said following the release of the letter.
In the letter to Amazon, the OSHA Area Director pointed out their “workplace conditions [that] have been identified as risk factors.” They included a locked-up megaphone, the possible lack of shelter-in-place drills for employees, and the lack of a plan that “did not specifically identify the location of the designated shelter area for the facility.”
The letter went on to recommend three “necessary steps” that Amazon should voluntarily take “to eliminate or materially reduce your employees’ exposure to the risk factors described above.” Those steps included clearly identified audible warnings, training and drills for all who work throughout the facility including vendors, and site-specific information on severe weather emergency plans including, “any applicable exit route, exit door, shelter-in-place, or any other emergency plan guidance, should be identified within the written emergency plan.”
Casciato said, “It is clear from this letter that OSHA identified deficiencies during the Dec. 10 tornado that must be addressed immediately. Had these guidelines been followed before that date, perhaps lives could have been saved in Edwardsville, Illinois.”
Casciato and Clifford Law Offices represent the family of Austin McEwen, 26, a delivery driver who was ordered back to the Amazon facility despite winds increasing in the area the afternoon of Dec. 10, 2021. He was directed to take shelter in a bathroom with five others when the concrete structure collapsed on them, killing all six of them. The OSHA letter points out, “Some employees were unaware the designated tornado shelter was the restroom located in the northern portion of the building and instead took shelter in the restroom located in the southern portion of the building.” The southern portion of the Amazon building is the area that collapsed Dec. 10.
Clifford Law Offices filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Amazon as well as named the construction, design and engineering companies responsible for the architecture and development of the warehouse.
“Amazon still has not explained why workers were on production lines during what Amazon calls a ‘peak delivery season’ when there were warnings ample time before the tornado struck of a 70 percent chance of one or more tornados. Worker safety should take precedence over delivery of holiday packages,” Casciato said. “The fact that Amazon runs a facility in ‘tornado alley’ and that OSHA identified workers who were unsure where to go during a tornado and that emergency plans were not specified for this facility is a major issue. Amazon, of all companies, had the means to right these wrongs pre-collapse.”
Within days of the tragedy, Amazon advertised on LinkedIn for a “detail-oriented Chief Meteorologist at Amazon’s Global Security Operation Center in Goodyear, Arizona.”
For further information, please contact Clifford Law Offices’ Communications Partner Pamela Sakowicz Menaker at 847-721-0909 (cell).