The online retailing giant Amazon employs thousands of warehouse workers in Minnesota and around the country, and the results of an investigation being conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reveal that they work in environments that are far from safe. The investigation took another turn on Jan. 18 when the Department of Labor announced that three Amazon warehouse centers in New York, Illinois and Florida have been cited for exposing workers to ergonomic hazards. OSHA investigators say that Amazon’s warehouse practices put workers in danger because they prioritize speed at the expense of safety.
Amazon has been given 15 days to either pay $60,269 in proposed penalties or request a conference with local OSHA officials to discuss the matter. However, an Amazon representative said the company denies the allegations and plans to appeal, which means the retailer is likely to ask the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for a hearing. If it does, its representatives may be asked about the 14 workplace safety recordkeeping violations discovered by OSHA investigators in December. Amazon has been accused of failing to report or misclassifying worker injuries. In one case, OSHA was told that a serious head injury was a minor muscle strain.
Automation makes things worse
In July 2021, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a $300 million workplace safety program that included assigning dangerous tasks to robots instead of human beings, but this seems to have made things even worse. Robots work faster and more efficiently than people, which puts even more pressure on the humans that work alongside them. According to a report form a coalition of labor unions, injuries and workers’ compensation claims are more common at robotic Amazon warehouses than they are at facilities staffed by humans.
A drop in the bucket
Amazon generates billions of dollars in revenue each year, so these workplace safety citations are unlikely to worry its executives too much. The company is far more likely to be concerned about the reputational damage that an OSHA investigation could cause, but its sales figures suggest that the public is ambivalent. Amazon has been criticized for its harsh working conditions for years, but there has been little in the way of pushback from consumers.