Amazon said it would not build storm shelters at its warehouses after a tornado tore through one of its Illinois facilities more than a year ago, killing six workers.
“Amazon requires that its buildings comply with all applicable laws and building codes,” Brian Huesman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, wrote Jan. 14 in response to a request from three Democratic senators.
“We have not identified any jurisdictions in the United States that require storm shelters or safe rooms for such facilities,” Hughesman added in responses obtained by CNBC.
In December 2021, an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois was severely damaged after a powerful tornado tore through the facility, causing the roof of the 1.1 million square foot building to collapse, while the 40-foot-high walls ft. and 11 in. thick on the sides of the building fell inward. Six workers were killed, most of whom were contract delivery drivers.
Lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Alexandria Acasio-Cortez, D-Dan., and Cory Bush, D-Massachusetts, wrote to Amazon in late December asking for more information about Amazon’s plans to rebuild the Edwardsville warehouse and asking why was there no storm shelter or safe room on site.
In its responses, Amazon said it is following the guidance of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Weather Service and will continue to maintain an assembly site in severe weather so workers can shelter in place.
OSHA guidelines say that basements, storm cellars or small indoor rooms provide the best protection against tornadoes. But the federal government does not require purpose-built storm shelters in warehouses.
All of the employees and contractors who died in the collapse were hiding in a bathroom, while others who took shelter in a special assembly area survived.
Amazon previously said it followed federal guidelines to order employees to take shelter immediately after a tornado warning. The tornado likely formed in the facility’s parking lot and struck the building minutes after the storm warning was issued, the company said.
OSHA concluded its investigation into the incident last April, and the agency has not levied any fines or penalties against Amazon, other than ordering it to review its severe weather policy.
In a December letter addressed to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, the lawmakers said the company failed to adequately protect workers at the Edwardsville facility and expressed disapproval of the shelter employees were told to shelter in during the storm.
“Amazon’s apparent reluctance to invest in a storm shelter or safe room at its Edwardsville facility is even more concerning given the fact that installing one could be done by Amazon at relatively low cost,” they wrote, adding that the cost would be “negligible ” for the company.
Amazon is a tenant at the warehouse and the owner is required to restore the facility to pre-tornado condition, company spokeswoman Kelly Nantel told KYTV, the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Missouri.
After the tornado, Amazon hired a meteorologist, created new emergency badge cards that inform workers of evacuation points and assembly areas, and launched an internal center to monitor and report severe weather events, among other measures.
The families of two workers who died in the building collapse have filed a lawsuit against Amazon and the companies that built the warehouse.
Renovation of the Edwardsville warehouse began in June, according to KSDK, the NBC affiliate in St. Louis, Missouri.