Amazon’s OSHA fine for warehouse safety violations could be about $60K

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Investigations at three warehouses lead to allegations that Amazon ‘exposed workers to ergonomic, struck-by hazards.’

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has issued a citation against Amazon, alleging that the company violated safety laws and failed to keep workers in three warehouses safe. The regulator has also proposed $60,269 in penalties related to the violations — a drop in the bucket for a company that recorded over $127 billion in sales during the third quarter of 2022 alone but a relatively high penalty compared to many of the ones it faced from OSHA before.

According to a press release, the citation stems from inspections at three warehouses located in Deltona, Florida, Waukegan, Illinois, and New Windsor, New York. OSHA says that Amazon “exposed workers to ergonomic, struck-by hazards” in the location, putting them at “high risk for lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders.”

Doug Parker, assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, laid part of the blame on the pace that Amazon sets for its warehouse employees. “Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety,” he said, pointing out that the system at the warehouses seemed geared toward getting packages shipped out rather than worker safety.

It’s a criticism Amazon has faced for years, including from OSHA itself. Last year, advocacy group The Strategic Organizing Center released a report saying that Amazon workers make up a disproportionately high percentage of all warehouse industry injuries in the US. Outside of the warehouse, a 2019 report from Buzzfeed and ProPublica accused the company of trading safety for speed in its delivery network, and that point was reiterated last year by the SOC.

A statement from the activist group Athena Coalition quotes Daniel Olayiwola, an Amazon warehouse worker in San Antonio: “OSHA’s findings are a reflection of the experience of Amazon workers like me in warehouses all over the country.” Olayiwola says that workers have been “speaking out for years about the grueling pace of work and exploitative policies that directly cause burnout, severe stress on our bodies, and unsafe situations.”

For its part, Amazon doesn’t agree with OSHA’s latest allegations. “We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously, and we strongly disagree with these allegations and intend to appeal,” reads a statement from spokesperson Kelly Nantel. “We’ve cooperated fully, and the government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites.” Nantel also cites an improvement in the company’s injury rates between 2019 and 2021 (a claim similar to one Amazon made in response to the 2022 SOC report) and says that “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.”

According to OSHA, Amazon received citations for 14 record-keeping violations last year for “failing to record injuries and illnesses, misclassifying injuries and illnesses, not recording injuries and illnesses within the required time, and not providing OSHA with timely injury and illness records.” Those came with proposed fines of around $29,008 and were part of the same investigation as the citations announced Wednesday.

The regulator dinging Amazon is rare but not unheard of. The company received a citation in 2015 for failing to properly record work-related injuries and illnesses, as well as a handful of covid-related citations in 2020.

OSHA says that it’s also conducting investigations at three other Amazon warehouses in Aurora, Colorado, Nampa, Idaho, and Castleton, New York, after the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York referred it to do so last summer.

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