On December 10, a Category 3 tornado directly hit an Amazon distribution facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, resulting in a partial collapse of the building and six employee fatalities. In response to this tragedy, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an investigation of Amazon’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and whether this plan contributed to the magnitude of the incident. Following this investigation, OSHA did not cite Amazon or issue penalties, but last week the agency released a Hazard Alert Letter sent to the company that includes questions over the sufficiency of Amazon’s EAP.
The letter notes three areas of deficiency in Amazon’s emergency planning: (1) a megaphone used to broadcast information to employees was locked and inaccessible at the time of the incident; (2) employees were not well-trained with regard to shelter in place locations within the facility; and (3) the EAP’s weather planning was not specific to threats potentially faced by this specific location. For example, it contained information about hurricane preparedness, an unlikely hazard in Illinois.
OSHA concluded the letter by noting that under the General Duty Clause, employers have an obligation to protect employees from foreseeable risks of death or serious injury. This not-so-veiled threat signaled the potential for citations in the event OSHA finds inadequate emergency planning.
Employers should use this letter as motivation to review and revise their EAPs. The plan should discuss reasonably potential emergency circumstances for that facility and include employee training and emergency response measures. Employers cannot control the weather, but they have a legal duty to plan for and respond to natural and other disasters.