Report: Indiana too quick to clear Amazon in worker’s death

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Indiana’s safety agency prematurely released Amazon from citations and fines in the death of a warehouse employee who was crushed by a forklift, a federal investigation has found.

Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration absolved the online retailer of any accountability in the death of 59-year-old Phillip Lee Terry at the same time the state was bidding for Amazon’s HQ2 project, according to The Indianapolis Star.

John Stallone, the former IOSHA inspector who investigated the death, had issued four safety citations for a total fine of $28,000, which Amazon later appealed, arguing the death was a result of employee misconduct.

The federal investigation found IOSHA Director Julie Alexander gave advice to Amazon representatives on how to dismiss safety violation orders without proper evidence.

Stallone filed a complaint with federal officials, alleging IOSHA officials acted inappropriately in their interactions with Amazon. His allegations were first detailed in an article by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, where he also said he felt pressured by Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Labor Commissioner Rick Ruble to back off the case.

Both Holcomb and Ruble deny the allegations, though Holcomb later sent cease-and-desist letters to the IndyStar and Reveal to retract the story.

Holcomb denies any involvement in the investigation of the September 2017 death at Amazon’s Plainfield warehouse. Holcomb and Labor officials insisted the Amazon investigation was handled properly.

The letter from federal OSHA responding to Stallone’s complaint says IOSHA dismissed the four safety violations and fines without receiving proper evidence that a job hazard did not exist and without pursuing evidence of enforcement of safety rules at the warehouse.

IOSHA is required to provide a written response to the findings from the federal investigation.

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