EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Federal safety investigators say Amazon’s severe weather policies in place at the time of the December tornado which struck its Edwardsville facility and killed 6 people “met minimal federal safety guidelines for storm sheltering,” but the online retailer needs to do more to protect workers and drivers in the future.

What You Need To Know

  • OSHA has no federal standard for severe weather emergency plans

  • Feds say Amazon's plans 'met minimal federal standard'

  • Total of four companies received Hazard Alert letter tied to deadly Edwardsville tornado

  • U.S. House panel investigation is ongoing

On Tuesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, issued a Hazard Alert Letter to Amazon with three findings:

1. "The megaphone, identified by the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to be used to activate the shelter-in-place procedure, was locked in a cage and not accessible. Per the EAP, managers were to “[a]ctivate the audible warning method to alert personnel about the site emergency.” Management adapted to the situation by verbally communicating warnings to personnel, instructing them to take shelter in the restroom. 

2. Based on interviews with Amazon and Delivery Service Providers (DSP) personnel, some employees did not recall the location of the DLI4 designated severe weather shelter-in-place. The personnel did not recall ever participating in any severe weather or shelter-in place drills. 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. 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. 

3. Amazon’s written EAP contained a section which addressed severe weather emergencies. The plan was not 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 plan did not specifically identify the location of the designated shelter area for the facility. Amazon had posted facility evacuation maps which indicated the location of the designated tornado shelter.”

There is no OSHA standard for severe weather emergency plans. 

“These tragic deaths have sparked discussions nationwide on the vital need for comprehensive workplace emergency plans,” OSHA’s Regional Administrator William Donovan said in a news release announcing the letter. “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.”

"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. Our buildings—including the Edwardsville delivery station—have emergency plans that identify exit routes and shelter areas," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement to Spectrum News. "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.”

Similar letters were sent to AB&C D.A.D. Inc., Boxify Logistics and XSeed Delivery, which employed five of the six people who died while seeking shelter at the warehouse during the tornado.

Amazon, the warehouse’s builder, Contegra Construction, the site’s developer Tri-Star Properties, and other engineering firms tied to the project are named as defendants in a pair of wrongful death suits filed in January and April. 

The U.S. House Oversight Committee in March gave Amazon an April 14 deadline to provide information about severe weather policies in place at the time of the tornado. “We are in contact with Amazon and working to ensure the Committee receives a complete production in response to our request,” a committee spokesperson told Spectrum News Tuesday.