Amazon fined by regulators for unsafe warehouse work conditions

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Federal regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that three Amazon warehouse facilities had violated legislation designed to require employers to provide safe working environments. Investigations found that Amazon workers are at high risk for back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), especially in warehouse environments that prioritize speed over safety.

“While Amazon has developed impressive systems to make sure its customers’ orders are shipped efficiently and quickly, the company has failed to show the same level of commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its workers,” said Doug Parker, an assistant secretary at OSHA.

Amazon must pay a $60,269 fine for the violations at warehouses in Deltona, Florida; Waukegan, Illinois; and New Windsor, New York. As part of the same investigation, OSHA found in December that six Amazon warehouse facilities had failed to record and report worker injuries and illnesses. There are three similar, ongoing investigations at Amazon facilities in Colorado, Idaho and New York.

OSHA’s findings show an ongoing pattern of employee injuries, including stuck-by injuries while handling objects over 50 pounds. An example report from July reads, “crushing/smashing; face; furniture (61 lbs).” Another reads, “strain/sprain; lower leg; fitness equipment (148 lbs.)” The Florida warehouse was also cited for being too hot, which can potentially cause heat-related illness.

Amazon has on-site clinics called Amcare for employees who may suffer injuries on the job, but OSHA claims that these facilities can be prohibitive to workers receiving adequate medical care. Amazon employees told investigators that the Amcare clinic in Deltona, Florida, required injured workers to wait three weeks after an injury before they could be referred to a physician. OSHA also found that if an employee suffered head trauma and dizziness, they were not immediately referred to a physician.

A spokesperson from Amazon told TechCrunch that the company denies OSHA’s claims.

“We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously, and we strongly disagree with these allegations and intend to appeal,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement. “We’ve cooperated fully, and the government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites. Over the last several months we’ve demonstrated the extent to which we work every day to mitigate risk and protect our people, and our publicly available data show we’ve reduced injury rates nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021.”

Amazon said that the federal government does not offer specific ergonomics guidance to employers, so the company has invested in engineering innovations that can reduce the need for workers to bend, twist and reach in ways that can cause injury. Warehouse workers also take part in stretching groups called “huddles.”

“The vast majority of our employees tell us they feel our workplace is safe,” Nantel said. “We look forward to sharing more during our appeal about the numerous safety innovations, process improvements, and investments we’re making to further reduce injuries. We know there will always be ways for us to improve even further, and we will — we’ll never stop working to be safer for our employees.”

Federal regulators have found trouble in Amazon’s warehouses for years, where workers typically work physically demanding shifts of ten hours with minimal breaks. According to data from the Washington State Department of Labor, the rate of strains and sprains per 10,000 employees are four times higher at Amazon than they are at other warehouses. And in 2019, OSHA found the same issue with Amcare facilities that it’s reporting now: Amcare staff are treating employees on-site, rather than referring them to other doctors when necessary.

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