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OSHA report says workers killed in Amazon warehouse collapse took shelter in wrong bathroom

The megaphone that was supposed to be used in emergencies was locked in a cage, and managers had to direct employees without it, the report said.

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Federal safety inspectors told Amazon representatives they met minimum federal safety standards in the moments before a tornado hit their Edwardsville facility on Dec. 10, 2021, though there were three issues that “raised concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies.”

In an April 26 Hazard Alert Letter from Aaron Priddy, director of the Fairview Heights area office, outlines the concerns. He first notes that the megaphone used to activate the shelter-in-place procedure was locked in a cage and inaccessible when the tornado hit.

Priddy said some Amazon workers and independent contractors did not know the location of the facility's severe weather shelter, nor did they recall ever participating in severe weather drills. When managers began directing employees to find shelter about 10 minutes before the tornado touched down, some mistakenly went to a bathroom on the southern side of the building, unaware the designated storm shelter was on the northern side. All of the people who died were in that southern bathroom.

Finally, Priddy wrote that Amazon’s written storm plan was not customized for the kinds of weather events employees could expect in Edwardsville, including elements that addressed hurricane preparedness.

Six people were killed and one person was critically injured when the EF-3 tornado hit Amazon’s delivery facility. Jack Casciato, an attorney representing the family of Austin McEwen called the agency's action Tuesday "very significant."

"You have to ask yourself why Amazon of all corporations did not have specific instructions and drills when other facilities in this area certainly do, knowing that tornadoes are a hazard, and -- most importantly -- knowing that there was a 70% chance of two or more tornadoes that evening," Casciato told 5 On Your Side while on a visit to the Metro East Tuesday.

Casciato filed a wrongful death suit in January on behalf of McEwen's family, amending it earlier this month when new concerns about the stability of the facility’s columns came to light.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel says the company has already increased their safety and emergency preparedness drills and will consider any OSHA recommendations that are not already in place.

In a statement, she adds "The tornado that hit our delivery station was extreme and very sudden, with winds that were much like the force of a category 4 hurricane, and we believe our team did the right thing, moving people to shelter as soon as the warning was issued."

Nantel says all Amazon buildings -- including the Edwardsville delivery station -- have emergency plans that identify exit routes and shelter areas. 

OSHA officials say Amazon workers don't have to respond to the letter or implement any of the recommendations within.

OSHA's Regional Administrator Bill Donovan said the Amazon collapse highlights the need for more comprehensive workplace emergency plans.

“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,” Donovan wrote in a press release.

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