Amazon often makes a great deal over its safety practices, claiming that automation and worker surveillance help keep workers safe and healthy. The company actively monitors progress on its safety goals, but internal data shows that those goals may not be being met. In fact, injuries may be on the upswing, especially during busy periods.
The data comes from a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting's site Reveal. The report indicates that automation has prompted the company to dramatically increase workload expectations. For example, in a traditional warehouse, the workers were expected to pick and scan about 100 items an hour. In a robotic-assisted fulfillment center, that went up to about 400 items per hour.
"If you've got robots that are moving product faster and workers have to then lift or move those products faster, there'll be increased injuries," said a medical officer for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Ergonomics are also an issue for workers in robot-assisted warehouses. In 2015, OSHA sent Amazon a hazard letter about one of its warehouses. It said that workers were being exposed to ergonomic risk factors for injury, including:
Amazon told Reveal that it has committed to over $1 billion in safety investments this year, although some of that was required to contend with COVID-19.
Yet Reveal indicates that Amazon has misled the public and lawmakers about its injury rates. For example, Amazon has said that it knows "for a fact" that injuries do not go up during peak times, such as the holidays and Amazon Prime day.
Unfortunately, weekly injury numbers and internal safety reports indicate that workers are much more likely to get hurt at the robot-assisted facilities and during busy periods.
And, in 2015, federal safety regulators fined Amazon for failing to make reports of at least 26 workplace injuries and illnesses at one of its warehouses. Additionally, regulators found that Amazon hired medical personnel who provided medical services beyond their level of expertise.
In response to the report, Amazon insisted that it has never misled anyone and insisted that the documents obtained by Reveal merely indicate a deep focus on safety.
Workers at Amazon and other warehouses are at serious risk of injury, especially if their work is rushed. Luckily, in order to file a workers' comp claim, you don't have to prove that your employer had bad policies or was negligent. All you have to show, in general, is that you were injured during the course of your work-related duties.