Six people were killed last December when a tornado hit an Amazon warehouse, causing part of the building to collapse. Now, a year later, the warehouse is almost rebuilt … and it won't have a storm shelter.
An Amazon spokeswoman told St. Louis Public Radio that Amazon is trying to prevent repeat tragedies, just not by adding a storm shelter, which isn’t required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or local building codes. The warehouse isn’t directly owned by Amazon, but the massive corporation could have made it a priority to press the owner to create a shelter when rebuilding. Amazon didn’t do that, and the owner didn’t either.
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“We want to go above and beyond in the areas that we have the most control over and the most confidence that they would make a difference,” the Amazon spokeswoman said. “And so, while that building is not being built with a storm shelter, that doesn't mean that conversations aren't being had.” Yes, conversations. Well known for protecting people when the building they are in falls down around them.
Amazon’s prevention efforts include training employees on what to do in extreme weather, and the hiring of a meteorologist. But again, training people how to respond only goes so far when their only available shelter is a building that cannot stand up to the weather approaching it. The meteorologist, meanwhile, is likely to be useful to Amazon in plenty of ways that don’t involve protecting workers’ lives. After all, being able to better plan for potential weather like hurricanes and blizzards can prevent shipping delays, and that can help profits. So let’s not see “we hired a meteorologist” as some noble act.
None of this exactly screams “going above and beyond.”
The new warehouse will be a little stronger than the old one—because the city of Edwardsville updated its building code. The walls are intended to withstand winds up to 114 miles per hour for three seconds, the local fire chief told SLPR, up from 90 miles per hour under the old building code. However, the tornado that struck the warehouse last year had wind speeds between 136 and 165 miles per hour.
The family of Austin McEwen, one of the six workers killed when the tornado damaged the building, has sued Amazon, saying the company pressured workers to stay on site fulfilling orders rather than getting them to safety as extreme weather predictions developed.
”It appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five families who lost loved ones,” McEwen’s mother told reporters when the lawsuit was filed in January.
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