Editorial: Deadly tornadoes should prompt emergency reviews

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The tornadoes that ripped through five states last weekend and killed at least 88 people should serve as a strong reminder to all employers to make sure they have effective emergency plans for severe weather.

Among the 74 people killed in Kentucky, eight were working overnight at a candle factory in Mayfield, hurriedly producing goods to fill holiday orders.

In Edwardsville, Illinois, six people died at an Amazon delivery station as a tornado pummeled the facility and tore away part of the building.

We’re not prepared to conclude that the employers did anything wrong in their responses to the storms. But workers at the affected facilities have raised questions that need to be thoroughly investigated by federal and state authorities and considered more broadly by the manufacturing and warehousing sectors as they devise and revise their own emergency responses.

NBC News reported some workers at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory said they asked to go home to avoid the storm but were told by supervisors that they would probably lose their jobs if they left.

A company spokesman denied that workers were threatened with their jobs but said it was entirely appropriate for the state to investigate such a catastrophic situation.

Still, the circumstances raise important questions about when employers should call off work during the threat of severe weather.

It’s an easier call to make when you can see that an accumulation of snow and ice will make travel impossible or treacherous. But what should the protocol be when your area is under tornado watch or warning? At what point should you make sure your employees take cover?

In Edwardsville, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is investigating to make sure workplace safety and health regulations were followed.

One complicating factor at the Edwardsville Amazon facility was that the tornado struck at the end of a shift, making it difficult to know who was on site and who had already left, ABC News reported.

Amazon said workers quickly took shelter in two locations. One was a primary designated location. The other was in an area also thought to be fortified, but it was directly hit by the storm and is where most deaths occurred, according to Amazon.

However, as The New York Times reported, it was not clear if the areas were built to withstand a direct tornado strike.

This raises a question as to what safety standards should be for worker shelter space at factories and warehouses, which dominate Indiana’s economy.

At a minimum, last week’s tornado tragedy should prompt employers and employees to make sure they know what the emergency response should be if a twister comes bearing down on their workplaces.•

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