Amazon 'deeply saddened' by warehouse deaths

Retail giant tells COS employees went to designated shelter areas but tornado struck just 21 minutes after first warning

Amazon 'deeply saddened' by warehouse deaths

Amazon has responded to criticism following the death of six workers at its warehouse in Illinois.

Six Amazon workers were killed when a series of tornadoes hit a warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois on Friday night, according to reports. Shortly after, the company faced criticism over its handling of the situation.

“We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado,” said Kelly Nantel, Amazon spokesperson, in an email sent by the company to Canadian Occupational Safety.

“We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”

Amazon, in the email, explained why workers had been in the building when the tornadoes hit:

“When a site is made aware of a tornado warning in the area, all employees are notified and directed to move to a designated and marked shelter in place location. This is the safest approach to ensure that no one is on the road or outside during a tornado,” it said.

“In this situation, when the tornado warning came in from local authorities, the onsite team immediately moved to ensure all team members went to the designated shelter in place locations. The tornado touched ground shortly after.”

The company also says that the event happened very fast, explaining that the site got tornado warnings between 8:06 and 8:16, and site leaders directed people on site to immediately take shelter. At 8:27, the tornado struck the building.

“It appears that the tornado formed in the parking lot, moved through the site, and then disappeared—all happening incredibly fast.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has opened an investigation into the collapse. OSHA has six months to complete its probe.

The web retail giant has been plagued for years with reports of less than optimal working conditions in its numerous warehouses. For example, early last year U.S. senators issued a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concern about the safety of Amazon employees.

However, efforts to unionize at an Amazon warehouse in the U.S. fell short after workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse overwhelmingly voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in April.