December 2021 was the most active December on record for tornadoes in the United States. The worst outbreak of that month was December 10th, when a multi-state tornado outbreak took the lives of 71 and led to the destruction of over 15,000 buildings.
One of those buildings was an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois where six people died. Five of those killed took shelter in a seemingly safe place, a bathroom.
An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) investigation into the Amazon warehouse destruction indicated the first problem arose when a megaphone designated to be used to alert employees of severe weather danger wasn’t used and was locked in a cage. Management did verbally try to warn the workers, instructing them to shelter in the bathroom.
It was also found that many of the employees split up between two bathrooms. One was the safer option but most employees didn’t know that. Of those who went to the wrong bathroom for shelter, five of them died. At this time, it’s unclear why that bathroom wasn’t the safest option.
OHSA also found that Amazon’s Emergency Action Plan was too broad and not customized to that specific facility. It was a general safety plan for many facilities because it even had steps to take in case of a hurricane, something this location would never experience. They’re now calling for Amazon to review its safety procedures.
Many have an Emergency Action Plan at their job. It’s OK to ask that it be reviewed again. And if you don’t have one, or you don’t know where you’d go in the event of a tornado emergency, it’s OK to ask your employer for some clarity. Sometimes the safest option isn’t the most obvious, like at that Amazon facility in Edwardsville.
The Department of Labor states that businesses should have an emergency plan that fits their needs. For instance, what do you do if there’s a tornado coming for your building and you work with hazardous materials? Or you work with a vulnerable population?
Links to help you make a workplace safety plan: