Amazon warehouse policies have put workers at risk: Report

San Francisco: As e-commerce giant Amazon faces a US government’s probe into its warehouse collapse in the state of Illinois that left six people dead, workers at the facility have told The Intercept that they received almost no emergency training and were discouraged from taking time off during natural disasters – something that appears to be common across the company’s warehouses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the US has opened an investigation into the collapse of an Amazon warehouse. The roof had collapsed after a powerful tornado hit the facility on December 10.

“Despite hours of notice that severe weather was imminent, workers were not sent home before a tornado struck the warehouse and killed six people,” reports The Verge.

Courtenay Brown, a worker at an Amazon Fresh warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey, was quoted as saying in the report that workers there also received little training about what to do in an emergency.

“They teach you how to do the job, show you what to do, then you go on your own, and that’s it,” Brown said in the report on Wednesday.

Amazon did not answer questions about why it decided to keep its warehouses open despite the severe weather.

In an email to The Verge, Amazon PR manager Alisa Carroll said that “emergency response training is provided to new employees and that training is reinforced throughout the year”.

“OSHA guidance clearly states to take shelter immediately when there’s a tornado warning. Our leaders on the ground followed their training and did just that, moving quickly to get people to take shelter immediately. That likely saved many lives from this storm,” Carroll was quoted as saying.

However, this is not the first time Amazon has been found short of providing enough facilities and training at its warehouses.

In June, during a record heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, some workers at an Amazon warehouse in Washington state said many workstations lacked functioning fans, and temperatures inside the facility were close to 90 degrees.

According to the report, at Amazon’s JFK8 facility in Staten Island in the US, workers reported in July that the warehouse was too hot, while they were pushed to keep “working at a non-stop pace”.

The tragedy is now galvanising labour groups, which see it as part of a broader problem with the e-commerce giant.

Questions are being raised over whether adequate shelter was available, whether workers were advised to go there immediately, and whether the shifts should have gone ahead that evening at all, given the warnings of severe weather.

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