Amazon said it would not build storm shelters in 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 follow all applicable laws and building codes,” Brian Huisman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, wrote Jan. 14 in response to an inquiry by three Democratic senators.
“We have not identified any jurisdiction in the United States that requires storm shelters or safe rooms for this type of facility,” Huisman 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-tall, 40-foot-thick walls 11 inches on the sides of the building fell inward. Six workers were killed, most of whom were hired drivers.
Lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Cory Bush, D-Mo., wrote to Amazon in late December seeking more information about Amazon’s plans to restore Warehouse in Edwardsville and wondering why they don’t have a storm shelter or safe room on site.
Amazon said in its responses that it is following guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Weather Service and will continue to maintain a severe weather collection area for workers to shelter in place.
OSHA guidelines say that basements, basements, or small indoor spaces provide the best tornado protection. But the federal government does not require purpose-built storm shelters in warehouses.
All the employees and contractors who died in the collapse hid in a bathroom, while others who hid in a designated assembly area survived.
Amazon previously said it followed federal guidelines to tell employees to shelter in place immediately after a tornado warning. The tornado likely formed in the facility’s parking lot and struck the building minutes after a storm warning was issued, the company said.
OSHA concluded an investigation into the incident last April, and the agency did not issue any fines or penalties against Amazon, other than ordering it to review its inclement weather policies.
In their December letter addressed to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, the lawmakers said the company failed to adequately protect workers at the Edwardsville facility and objected to the room where employees were instructed to seek shelter during the storm.
“Amazon’s apparent reluctance to invest in a storm shelter or safe room at its Edwardsville facility is made even more troubling by the fact that one can be installed by Amazon at relatively low cost,” they wrote, adding that the cost of this will be “insignificant” for the company.
Amazon is a tenant at the warehouse and the owner is required to restore the facility to its pre-tornado condition, company spokeswoman Kelly Nantel told NBC affiliate KYTV in Springfield, Missouri.
In the wake of the tornado, Amazon hired a meteorologist, created new emergency maps informing 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 employees who died in the building’s collapse have filed lawsuits 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.