Amazon Pressed on Warehouse-Rebuilding Plan After Deadly 2021 Tornado

Three US lawmakers questioned Inc.’s plans for rebuilding an Illinois warehouse that collapsed.

Three US lawmakers questioned Inc.’s plans for rebuilding an Illinois warehouse that collapsed in a tornado last year, killing six workers and prompting an investigation by workplace safety regulators.

The lawmakers said the e-commerce company should be constructing the warehouse with stronger safety features than existed before the collapse. Amazon is a tenant in the facility owned by a separate company.

“Workers have a right to safety at work, and employers have a duty to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their workplace is safe from harm and built to withstand reasonably expectable safety risks,” according to the letter signed by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri, all Democrats. “Amazon had reasonable cause to be concerned about tornado risk and should have updated the facility with a specifically designed storm shelter to avoid the exact sort of disaster that occurred a year ago.”

The deadly tornado ripped through an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, last December, killing six workers and injuring several others. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April found several lapses, including that a megaphone used to alert workers was locked and inaccessible during the event. The agency didn’t levy any fines, but encouraged Amazon to review and improve its safety procedures.

The accident heightened public scrutiny of Amazon’s workplace safety record and how it balances customers’ desire for products with workers’ well-being in dangerous conditions.

In a letter addressed to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy, the lawmakers said Amazon has begun reconstruction of the facility “only to meet the same ‘pre-loss conditions’” that it had previously. The lawmakers said “it is clear that Amazon’s effort to protect workers at the Edwardsville facility were sorely lacking.”

Amazon said in a statement it has “strengthened our emergency response plans and tailored them to meet the specific needs of individual sites, increased the frequency of emergency drills for employees and partners, and reevaluated the severe weather assembly area locations in many of our facilities to ensure they meet not only OSHA requirements” but also guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “which is the most stringent and comprehensive.”

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