Amazon employee in Ontario collapses, dies after fire alarm sent staff into deep cold

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RELATED: Unifor is spearheading a campaign by Canadian Amazon workers to unionize. Global News Morning speaks with Unifor's Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle. – Jun 22, 2023

The Ministry of Labour is investigating after an employee at the Amazon fulfillment center in Talbotville, Ont., south of London, collapsed and later died about an hour after a fire alarm sent staff out of the plant and into frigid conditions.

The worker, identified by a close friend as Paulo DeSouza Bezerra, 50, leaves behind a wife and young son.

The incident occurred Sunday evening when extreme cold had already moved into the region. The Middlesex-London Health Unit had issued a cold weather alert that day, noting that wind chill values of -22 were expected in the evening and would keep dropping overnight.

Amazon confirms that the alarm sounded at 11:10 p.m. and evacuation began immediately. The company says the building was cleared for re-entry at 11:27 p.m. Sunday.

“There’s nothing more important than our employees’ health and safety, which is why we ensured the site was evacuated quickly and provided warm weather kits to help keep employees warm and comfortable,” said spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel.

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“The site was cleared for re-entry about 16 minutes after the alarm sounded, and employees were encouraged to warm up in the break room before returning to their work stations.”

Roughly 45 minutes after employees returned inside, one of them collapsed and died.

“We’re grieving the loss of our colleague, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. We’re providing support to anyone at the site who may need it, including counseling services, and encouraging employees to use resources available to them via our Employee Assistance Program,” Lynch Vogel said.

“We won’t speculate on the cause of death, but the incident itself does not appear to be work-related.”

Amazon says the employee collapsed “for unknown reasons” near a water cooler by his workstation and that 911 was called right away. It says it is cooperating with the Ministry of Labour investigation.

However, Amazon disputed several claims in a London Free Press article, which cited employees who said that they were outside longer than 17 minutes, that there weren’t enough warming kits for everyone and that staff who tried to warm up in their vehicles were told by supervisors to get out of their cars.

Amazon says it’s possible a site leader may have gone to workers’ vehicles to check on them or pass along information but the company says no one was told they couldn’t wait in their vehicle. The company also says warming kits were available “to everyone.”

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In a statement, the ministry said it was notified about the fatality on Monday. The ministry says a worker was found unresponsive at their workstation and a ministry inspector has been assigned to the case.

“As the ministry’s investigation is ongoing, we are not able to provide further information at this time,” the statement concluded.

A photo of Paulo DeSouza Bezerra.
Paulo DeSouza Bezerra, 50, died suddenly on Jan. 15, 2024. McFarlane and Roberts Funeral Home

A GoFundMe organized by close friend Talita Robbins says that DeSouza Bezerra’s wife Shiella learned “that her partner had a heart attack at work and didn’t make it.” Robbins writes that the couple were together for almost 25 years and described Paulo as “pure joy, always sharing his jokes with everyone around.”

“Everyone who knows this family knows how much they love each other and how much they fought to realize all of their dreams together,” the GoFundMe reads.

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“With Sheilla still in her mat leave, a small child to raise on her own and lots of bills to pay we want to help her financially to pay for the funeral costs and the first few months without her biggest supporter.”

As of Friday afternoon, over $16,000 had been raised.

A public visitation is scheduled for McFarlane and Roberts Funeral Home on Saturday.

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