Amazon, Candle Factory Under Investigation Following Tornado Deaths, Officials Say

16 Dec, 2021 Liz Carey

                               

Mayfield, KY (WorkersCompensation.com) – Officials said companies in Illinois and Kentucky are under investigation after at least 14 employees died in separate incidents caused by a swath of tornados that swept across the Midwest this weekend. 

On Tuesday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Mayfield Consumer Goods, a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, that was destroyed by one of the tornados was under investigation by the state. Eight employees died on Friday night when the building collapsed during the tornado. Eight more are still missing. An estimated 110 employees were working the night of the incident. 

The state will investigate the company’s safety protocols, Beshear said in a press conference. He was also quick to point out that the investigation does not mean the company did anything wrong. 

Employees, however, painted a different picture. Four employees told NBC News that they wanted to leave the building when they heard the tornado warning sirens, but were told they’d be fired if they left their shifts early. The four said that as many as 15 workers asked managers to let them shelter at their own homes, but were refused. 

Company officials told NBC the employees had been free to go. 

“We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began. Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day,” Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company said. 

Beshear said the state office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration would look into the allegations, just like they look into all workplace fatalities. 

“There will be a level of review that will take months,” he said. “So, yes, you can expect a state agency to be taking a look at that. We do this in all of them. It shouldn’t suggest that there was any wrongdoing. What it should give people confidence in is that we will get to the bottom of what happened, and once the investigation is complete to be transparent about it.” 

Beshear estimated the review would take about six months. 

In Illinois, OSHA is opening an investigation into an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville after it collapsed during the storm, killing six. 

Inspectors have been at the site since Saturday, officials said, and will begin the work of looking into whether or not workplace safety rules were followed. 

Amazon has said that warehouse managers and employees had little time to get to safety after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning Friday night. Officials said the warehouse received the warnings at 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m., and the tornado struck at 8:27 p.m. After receiving the warning, supervisors directed employees to immediately take shelter, said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel. 

“There was a tremendous effort that happened that night to keep everybody safe,” said John Felton, Amazon’s senior vice president of global delivery services, during a press conference with Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

Felton said most of the people in the warehouse headed to a shelter on the north side of the building, but a smaller group went to the south end. The company said those areas are not safe rooms, but places away from windows that are generally considered safer parts of the plant during a tornado. 

The tornado destroyed the building, collapsing its 11-inch thick, 40 feet tall walls, which led to the roof caving in. Most of the damage, officials said, was on the south end of the building. 

Several employees told Reuters they were told by managers to shelter in bathrooms. Amazon said the employees were directed to a designated assembly area at the front of the building near a restroom. 

Employees said one of the workers who was killed, 26-year-old Austin McEwen, died sheltering in a bathroom with his coworkers. 

"I was at the end of my route. I was just getting in the building and they started screaming, 'Shelter in place!'" David Kosiak, 26, told Reuters. "We were in the bathrooms. That's where they sent us." 

Kosiak said when the tornado hit, ceiling tiles started falling down on them. He and several coworkers were made to shelter in place until they were free to go, two and a half hours later, he said. 

Amazon said it will assist the workers affected by the storm, and their families. The company has also pledge to donate $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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