Amazon is a Hazardous Place to Work, But Don’t Dare Tell the Company to Change

Technology Policy Brief #72 | By: Mindy Spatt | November 8, 2022

Header photo taken from: Chris J Ratcliffe | AFP | Getty Images




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OSHA probe could put Amazon in hot seat. Amazon workers have long complained that the company’s warehouses are too hot. Amazon workers have long complained that the company’s warehouses are too hot.

Photo taken from: Claudine Hellmuth / E&E News

Workers, regulators even its own investors want Amazon to improve its abysmal worker safety record.  But the company has fought tooth and nail to quash those efforts.
Working conditions at Amazon’s warehouses are among the worst in the US.  High quotas and constant surveillance likely contribute to injury rates for Amazon workers that are substantially higher than for comparable businesses; Amazon’s injury rate for warehouse workers was more than twice as high as Walmart’s in 2020, and its serious injury rate for warehouse workers was about 80% higher than for the industry overall.

These alarming statistics drove the company’s own investors, including Digital investment platform Tulipshare, to propose resolutions at Amazon’s 2022 annual meeting calling for the company to report on worker health and safety and the treatment of its warehouse workers.

The company’s board opposed the resolution which predictably failed, along with 14 others on worker safety. “Whilst we are disappointed that our proposal did not pass today, this vote was just the beginning in the fight for workers’ rights,” said Antoine Argouges, CEO and founder of Tulipshare, adding that Amazon had not yet disclosed by what percentage the proposal was rejected.

Argouges also said he believed there was widespread support for the resolution among investors, and indicated his intention to continue “the fight for better working conditions at Amazon.”

In its home state, Amazon is battling with the Washington Department of Labor & Industries over hazardous conditions at a warehouse in Kent, Washington.The Department found that workers were under pressure to lift, carry, and twist at a rapid pace, which the Board said was likely to lead to injury. The Department fined Amazon a paltry $60,000 and ordered the company to change these practices and decrease the potential harm to workers.

Amazon Would Rather Fight Than Change

Rather than comply Amazon appealed the order, claiming the citation requiring the company to reduce to the alleged safety hazards before any appeal could be heard, would require expensive changes to its warehouse design and retraining warehouse employees.

In its appeal Amazon complained that the process required by the board would be extremely disruptive to its operation and cost millions.

And Amazon brazenly asserted its corporate personhood, claiming the order by the Department of Labor and Industries order violated its right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. is also investigating potential workplace safety hazards at Amazon warehouses nationwide, CNBC recently reported. 

OSHA inspectors are looking at many of the same practices mentioned above, including Amazon’s ergonomics program and Power Industrial Truck (known as PIT) operations.  Employees working in this sector are required to drive forklifts to reach high shelves, move heavy items, and operate other potentially dangerous equipment. 

OSHA may also be looking into extreme heat in Amazon facilities. Heat-related hazards are a new emphasis for the agency, and were one of the complaints that spurred a walkout in August by 160 employees at the Amazon’s San Bernardino International Airport facility

amazon scout
Amazon is very late to this ground-based delivery robot game, which is crowded with many players that already have years of real-world experience accoridng to 2019 Wired report.

Photo taken from: Amazon, Wired

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OSHA conducts information requests on “types, ages and usage of powered industrial trucks; maintenance and retrofitting; how to regulate older powered industrial trucks; types of accidents and injuries associated with operating these machines; costs and benefits of retrofitting the machines with safety features; and other components of a safety program.”

Photo taken from: kadmy / iStockphoto

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Amazon’s Solution

Amazon has zeroed in on robots as the solution. “The movement of heavy packages, as well as the reduction of twisting and turning motions by employees, are areas we continually look to automate to help reduce risk of injury,” Amazon said.

But critics allege that not only do the robots not make workers safer, they may be making things worse. They claim injuries are on the increase in warehouses with workers, because they cause managers to “raise performance quotes.”  So far, it looks like workers can’t win. 

Engagement Resources​

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The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) is a democratic coalition of four labor unions: Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Communications Workers of America (CWA) and United Farmworkers of America (UFW). Together, SOC-affiliated unions represent more than 4 million workers.

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Amazon warehouses face expanded probes into safety hazards as investigators visit three more sites by Annie Palmer, Aug. 2, 2022


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