As e-commerce giant amazon.com inc. prepares to launch its annual Prime Day sale in October after a series of pandemic-related delays, a new report is alleging that the company’s automated warehouses push workers to fulfill orders so fast that Amazon employees suffer injuries at greater rates than the industry average.
The report, “How Amazon hid its safety crisis,” was published Tuesday by Reveal, a unit of the Emeryville, California-based Center for Investigative Reporting. According to that analysis, the company’s own statistics show that Seattle-based Amazon ignores its internal safety standards during the rush to process e-commerce orders during peak periods such as Prime Day and the winter holiday shopping season.
In a statement, Amazon said “We strongly refute the claims that we’ve misled anyone,” calling the report “misinformed” and claiming that the reporter is misinterpreting data. Specifically, the company said the report mistakes a statistic known as a DART rate—an acronym for “days away and restricted or transferred work,” as measured by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—as being equivalent to a serious injury rate.
“The reality is that there is no such OSHA or industry ‘serious injury rate,’ and our DART rate is actually supportive of employees as it encourages someone with any type of injury, for example a small strain or sprain, to stay away from work until they’re better,” Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty said in an email. “While we often accommodate employees with restrictions so that they can continue to work with full pay and benefits, we don’t believe an employer should be penalized when it encourages an associate to remain away from work if that will better promote their healing.”
According to Amazon, it has actually seen improvements in injury prevention and reduction, due to programs such as: improved ergonomics, guided physical and wellness exercises, mechanical workstation assistance equipment, improving workstation setup and design, forklift telematics, and forklift guardrails to separate equipment from pedestrians, Lighty said.
However, the report gives new weight to accusations that the company has long pushed its workers too hard. In 2019, government regulators with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) released a report called “Time Off Task: Pressure, Pain, and Productivity at Amazon” that focused on the company’s workplace practices at a Staten Island, New York facility.
In reaction, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) applauded that criticism. “Testing hundreds of thousands of workers’ physical limits is the wrong approach to increasing productivity,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a release. “Operating at speeds where ‘80% of workers feel pressured’ means Amazon needs to hire more workers, under more sustainable speeds that don’t put worker’s lives in jeopardy. Amazon needs to understand that human beings are not robots.”
The latest report from Reveal echoes many of those charges, saying that Amazon’s massive deployment of robots to fulfillment centers was originally intended to reduce the physical strain on workers by bringing racks of inventory to them, instead of requiring employees to walk through miles of aisles every day in search of items to pick.
However, the report says that Amazon soon raised its expectations for how many inventory pieces each worker had to pick and pack per hour, and those high expectations led many laborers to cut corners or skip safety steps, leading to increased rates of injury such as muscle strains caused by repetitive use or improper lifting stances.
For the past four years, @amazon's injury rates have gone up, and are especially high at its robotic warehouses. In our latest investigation, @willCIR unveils how the company hid its safety crisis. https://t.co/XhrKll8slU— Reveal (@reveal) September 30, 2020