Amazon told lawmakers it wouldn’t build warehouse storm shelters

Amazon told lawmakers it wouldn’t build storm shelters in its warehouses after a December 2021 tornado killed six employees at an Illinois location. Although the company changed its severe-weather response strategy after the incident, it essentially told the elected officials that since building storm shelters isn’t required by law, it won’t do that.

The company responded to lawmakers Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Cori Bush (D-MO), who sent a letter on December 15th, questioning the company’s lack of storm shelters or safe rooms at its warehouses. “Amazon’s apparent unwillingness to invest in a storm shelter or safe room at its Edwardsville facility is made even more concerning by the fact that installing one could be done by Amazon at relatively low cost,” the lawmakers wrote. “This cost is negligible for a company like Amazon, which brought in more than $500 billion in revenue over the 12-month period ending September 30, 2022 and clearly has the resources necessary to protect its workers should it have the will to do so.”

Company vice president of public policy Brian Huseman responded (via CNBC), “Amazon requires that its buildings follow all applicable laws and building codes. We have not identified any jurisdiction in the United States that requires storm shelters or safe rooms for these types of facilities.”

Amazon personnel gather for a meeting on the lot of the distribution center where the roof collapsed  in Edwardsville, Illinois, U.S. December 13, 2021.  REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Lawrence Bryant / reuters

Huseman added that Amazon follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Weather Service guidelines and will continue using a “severe weather assembly area” for sheltering in place instead of the requested storm shelters. The six employees and contractors who died at the warehouse tried to protect themselves in a bathroom; the surviving workers took refuge in an assembly area.

OSHA investigated the incident last April and ordered Amazon to review its severe weather policies, but it fell short of penalizing the company for its response. Additionally, Amazon hired a meteorologist, launched an internal center for monitoring severe weather and created emergency cards pointing out evacuation points and assembly areas.

Amazon reportedly began rebuilding the warehouse last June. The families of two of the employees killed there have sued the company for wrongful death.

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