OSHA investigation underway after tornado destroyed Edwardsville Amazon warehouse, killing 6

EDWARDSVILLE, Il. – The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday it has opened an investigation into the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, after it was hit by a tornado on Thursday. Six, leaving six dead and another hospitalized.

OSHA inspectors have been at the site since Saturday, will review whether workplace safety rules are being followed, and will have six months to respond, said spokesman Scott Allen. complete the investigation.

Amazon, meanwhile, said workers at the warehouse had little time to prepare when the National Weather Service declared a tornado warning Friday night. The tornado hit shortly after, collapsing both sides of the shed and cavern in its roof.

“There was a tremendous effort going on that night to keep everyone safe,” said John Felton, Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Delivery, in a statement. Amazon’s global delivery service senior, spoke with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker in Edwardsville on Monday and pledged to review all the facts that have taken place. put friday.

A heavily damaged Amazon completion center is seen on Saturday, December 11, 2021, in Edwardsville, Ill. A large portion of the building’s roof was ripped off and walls collapsed as the strong storm moved through the area Friday night. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the warehouse received a tornado warning between 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m. Friday, and site leaders directed workers to immediately arrive. shelter. At 8:27 p.m., a tornado hit the building.

Felton said most of the 46 people in the so-called “delivery station” warehouse headed to a shelter to the north, which ended up “almost unscathed,” and a smaller group headed to the north end. Men are more severely affected. These are not separate safety rooms, the company says, but often places away from windows that are considered safer than other parts of the plant.

The tornado was so strong that it twisted metal from the Amazon facility that scattered across the field near Bob Craft’s home and wrapped around trees, said the Edwardsville resident, who could once see the warehouse from the back of his home.

The storm toppled nearby peach trees, overturned a beekeeping structure and rolled a shipping crate.

“All the debris that passed like a bulldozer did nothing,” Craft said.

Amazon has pledged to support the workers and their families affected by the tragedy, including donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation. The company declined to answer questions Monday about disaster plans at the plant, including whether employees are required to perform drills.

John Gasper, an associate professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, cautions that he doesn’t know the details of what happened at Amazon. However, he said, for companies like Amazon with high turnover, it can be more difficult to conduct regular emergency training schedules, especially during the busy holiday season when there are many full-time workers. service.

“The cost of the time it takes to do the drills is also when they don’t (move) the packages,” he said. “They have to think about these trade-offs. But I don’t think any company wants to harm its employees.”

The tornado that hit the Amazon facility was part of a mob that turned upside down across the Midwest and South that leveled entire communities. Another tornado destroyed a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, killing multiple workers during an overnight shift. OSHA, part of the US Department of Labor, said federal investigators are not investigating the factory collapse in Kentucky because the state has its own workplace safety agency.

The Edwardsville Warehouse is part of an extensive series of patchwork steel and concrete structures that have emerged in the St. Louis over the past decade, attracted by the confluence of major highways and railroads, low costs, and Americans’ expectations of receiving packages. delivered as soon as they clicked the link to place an order.

Even if Amazon’s team did everything right to respond to a tornado, says a researcher who studies the warehouse industry and the pressures on Amazon workers to meet strict productivity quotas. horrifying, it raises questions about the structure of the giant barns that spring up across the Midwest as some climate experts warn of more frequent severe storms.

“We don’t think warehousing is one of those industries that will be severely impacted by climate change,” said Beth Gutelius, research director at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois. – Chicago. “How do we make sure the facilities are built in a way that best protects the workers inside?”

Gutelius says its central location and cheaper costs have caused the warehouse industry to triple over the past decade in the St. The vast Louis, of which Edwardsville was a part, was growing faster than the industry nationally. She said pressure on warehouse and delivery workers is particularly high during the holiday season, especially at Amazon because of its promise of speedy delivery and artificial intelligence technology to move goods and monitor efficiency. worker productivity.

During the governor’s press conference Monday, Nantel emphasized that the 1.1 million square foot building was “built to the rules.”

But Pritzker raises the possibility that the current codes are not enough to deal with the dangers of increasingly destructive storms. He said there would be an investigation into updating the code “given the dramatic change in climate we’re seeing across the country.”

In June 2016, Amazon announced plans to build two warehouses in Edwardsville, saying it would create 1,000 full-time jobs. According to a June 2016 article in Edwardsville Intelligencer, one is designed to handle large items like large-screen TVs and sports equipment. The other category is for smaller items like books, toys, and portable electronics.

Marc Wulfraat, a supply chain consultant who has researched Amazon warehouses and distribution centers, says the warehouse and distribution center in Edwardsville appears standard for the industry with its tall concrete walls. 40 feet, unlike many other companies popping up around the country as consumers move from stores to online purchases.

“It’s basically a warehouse, nothing special for Amazon,” said Wulfratt, president of MWPVL International, a consulting firm in Montreal. “They followed the rules when they put these buildings up. There’s no way around it.”

Robert Hartwig, a professor of finance at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, said Amazon is likely to have property insurance with very high deductibles, policies that tend to lead to properties that are insured. Build better to deal with hurricanes.

“Amazon has significant incentive to mitigate, make investments to reduce or avoid losses, design structures to minimize losses,” said Hartwig, former president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group. against different types of threats.

Gutelius said she couldn’t help seeing the tragedy as a spillover effect of US consumer demand for packages to be shipped quickly.

“Yes, it was a strange accident, but the fact remains that these workers are making sure my dog ​​gets a Frisbee – tomorrow – and sacrificing their lives for it.” she said. “It seems really ridiculous when you think about what equity is.” OSHA investigation underway after tornado destroyed Edwardsville Amazon warehouse, killing 6


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