Amazon worker died after fire alarm evacuation during extreme cold

Worker collapsed inside facility following 45-minute warm up period

Amazon worker died after fire alarm evacuation during extreme cold
Amazon fulfilment centre in St. Thomas, Ontario. Source: Shayne McLean

An investigation is underway after an Amazon worker collapsed and died at a fulfilment centre in St. Thomas, Ontario, just outside of London following a fire alarm evacuation that saw employees sent into dangerously cold conditions on Sunday January 14.

The company is also dispelling rumours that workers were told they couldn’t stay warm in their vehicles and were forced to stand in the cold unprotected. In a statement emailed to Canadian Occupational Safety, Amazon spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel says workers were provided everything needed to stay safe.

“There’s nothing more important than our employees’ health and safety, which is why we ensured the site was evacuated quickly and provided warm weather kits to help keep employees warm and comfortable,” says Lynch Vogel.

According to Environment Canada, with the windchill it was about -25 C Sunday night at 11:10 pm when the fire alarm went off. The building was evacuated, fire crews responded, and Amazon employees were allowed back into the facility at 11:27 pm.

“The site was cleared for re-entry about 16 minutes after the alarm sounded, and employees were encouraged to warm up in the break room before returning to their work stations,” says Lynch Vogel.

The Ministry of Labour is investigating the death of the work. In a statement to Canadian Occupational Safety, the ministry says, “the worker was found unresponsive at their workstation.”

Amazon is cooperating with the ministry and the company says the worker, along with several other employees, spent about 45 minutes in the break room warming up before returning to their workstations. It says the deceased employee collapsed for unknown reasons near a water cooler by his workstation. Emergency services were called and responded quickly.

“We’re grieving the loss of our colleague, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones,” says Lynch Vogel. “We’re providing support to anyone at the site who may need it, including counseling services, and encouraging employees to use resources available to them via our Employee Assistance Program. We won’t speculate on the cause of death, but the incident itself does not appear to be work-related.”

As part of the email sent by Amazon to Canadian Occupational Safety, the company says there is no truth to claims employees were told to get out of their vehicles or that they couldn’t sit in them during the evacuation of the building. The company says a site leader may have knocked on car windows to make sure individuals were accounted for, to provide warming kits, and to let workers know the first marshal had given the all-clear to return to the building.

The ministry says because its investigation is still ongoing, “we are not able to provide further information at this time.”