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Amazon failed to warn of smoke that spread through its warehouse, according to staff

Amazon has been accused by its staff of not alerting them when the warehouse at Bessemer, Alabam, filled up with smoke, endangering their health.

According to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, RWDSU, Amazon workers testified they were not given an adequate warning during an incident at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. They claimed their colleagues on the third floor were asked to go on unpaid voluntary time off, VTO, but the employees on the other floors were left to continue working. This was despite an unknown vapor rising and spreading through the facility.

The smoke later turned out to be vaporized oil from a faulty compressor.

RWDSU reported that the third floor was cleared out at about 1:30 PM when the ‘smoke’ started spreading, but the other floors still had workers till 5:45 PM. The fire alarms did not go off, and Amazon did not alert the workers through the managers or the A to Z app used for communication within the company. Workers only learned of the ‘smoke’ through their colleagues.

There was no significant police or firefighter presence by the time the workers exited. Night shift workers were also instructed to get to work inside immediately, even though the ‘smoke’ persisted.

According to one of the workers, Isaiah Thomas, “At first, I thought my glasses were just smudged, but then the air got thicker, and my co-worker said he thought it was smoke and we should leave. Everyone was very confused, and the lack of information made us feel very unsafe. We didn’t know what was happening and many of us sought safety in our cars and tried to get as far away from the building as possible. When I heard from my co-workers on the third floor that they were VTOed so many hours earlier I was shocked why they would have the rest of us keep working, and why there was no notification or alarm sounded for all those hours. I don’t know what I was breathing in for that long, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air at work today either. I feel very unsafe and I wish management would treat us like humans and care about our safety in a real way. Accidents happen, but there’s no reason why thousands of workers should have had to keep working breathing in what we thought was smoke for hours. Why is my health less important than a package getting shipped? Yesterday was the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which happened over 100 years ago; in 2022 workers shouldn’t have to fear dying in a fire at work.”

The president of RWDSU, Stuart Appelbaum, commented, “Amazon knowingly kept workers at their stations for hours during the incident, failed to properly evacuate the facility, and told workers to go back to work before any clarity on the safety of the vapor in the air was known. It is unconscionable that Amazon would keep workers at their stations when there is a known health and safety issue. Workers’ lives should never be put in jeopardy for profits, something Amazon has an inexcusable history of doing.”

The RWDSU has reported the incident to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA, and expects an investigation.

However, Amazon’s spokesperson, Kelly Nantel, claimed the RWDSU’s report was untrue. “An air compressor malfunction resulted in smoke emitting from the equipment. Out of an abundance of caution, we evacuated the facility and called the local fire department, who responded and quickly evaluated and cleared the site. We’re thankful no one was injured, and we appreciate the swift actions of the Bessemer Fire Department.”

Nantel also denied that Amazon forced the staff to take VTO.

Written by HackerVibes

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