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 lift then 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 were 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 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 if their work is rushed. Luckily, 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 your work-related duties.
Though Amazon boasts several claims that worker surveillance and automation keep the humans working the floor as safe as possible, safety goals are not always met. The rigorous record-keeping involved in this process only proves that.
Recent data shows an uptick in injury incidents, especially during the busiest seasons, such as the current holiday season.
Reveal, a site run by the Center for Investigative Reporting, discusses the rate of injury experienced by Amazon workers. The report states that automation has also resulted in a drastic increase in the expectations for human workers. Overseers expect workers to scan 100 items every hour, while robotic-assisted facilities must reach 400 items an hour.
Since robots increase the speed at which work occurs, it is natural that humans will have to speed up to keep pace, too. Unfortunately, humans cannot increase their speed without also increasing the likelihood of accidents and injuries occurring.
Amazon workers also face excessive ergonomic issues, such as repeated exertions, repetitive stress due to bending at the waist, and standing for shifts of up to 10 hours 4 days a week during overtime.
Though Amazon recently spent $1 billion in safety measures, weekly injury numbers show that workers still face many risks. Workers at robot-assisted facilities during busy times of the year are particularly susceptible to injury.
Unfortunately, the rushed pace at which workers must go does not seem to be letting up any time soon. Injured workers can seek compensation if needed for the injuries they face while dealing with these circumstances.