The Amazon was smitten with extraordinarily strong safety link by federal investigators in the US today. The findings appear to confirm what some employees at the company have long argued: that the online retail giant’s warehouses and fulfillment centers are designed for speed to exceed safety, often leading to lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal conditions.
quotation released The Health and Safety Administration today concluded that Amazon “cannot keep workers safe.” The company did not adequately protect them from dangers that could cause “serious physical harm,” the agency said. Despite years of accusations from workers and statewide investigations into injury rates, today’s action resulted in the first federal fines imposed on Amazon for musculoskeletal injuries.
“The citations are actually very significant,” says Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA senior advisor and occupational safety fellow at Georgetown University. The investigation was unusually large for OSHA, she said, and for the first time the agency has required Amazon to implement basic ergonomic principles to prevent injury. The same investigation was conducted by OSHA December cite Amazon for not registering or reporting work-related injuries and illnesses.
Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the company intends to appeal the agency’s findings. “We have been fully cooperative and the government’s claims do not reflect the reality of security at our facilities,” she says. “The vast majority of our employees tell us they think our workplace is safe.” The federal government does not provide specific ergonomics guidance, and Amazon has invested a lot of time and money into reducing musculoskeletal risk, Nantel says, citing Amazon data that shows injury rates dropped nearly 15 percent between 2019 and 2021. .
OSHA’s findings today echo those of a coalition of labor unions based on the agency’s past injury data. which concluded Injury rates in Amazon warehouses are often at least twice as high as Walmart, its closest competitor in size and scope. During the 2022 holiday season, warehouse workers spoke to WIRED about their personal battles with overwork exhaustion, wrist injuries, loud noise, and expectations of high performance.
The severity of the conviction in the new federal verdict did not match the punishment. If Amazon loses its planned appeal, it will have to pay a proposed $60,269 fine — a paltry amount compared to its nearly $1 trillion market cap.
OSHA fines for very specific, repeated, and serious violations can rise to millions of dollars. Oil company BP has faced multiple fines of more than $10 million for spills and violations related to refinery accidents. But the upper limit for fines for the types of safety violations that can result in back injuries, fractures or sprains is much lower, providing little financial incentive for companies to change. “OSHA fines have historically been incredibly low, but I believe the company has received the highest fines for every violation mentioned,” says Georgetown’s Berkowitz.
OSHA usually tries to convince companies like Amazon to prevent future injuries with detailed inspection letters that include suggestions for improving the processes that cause injuries. These “dangerous” letters were shipped on January 17 to three Amazon properties which OSHA inspected during this investigation in Delton, Florida; Waukegan, Illinois; and New Windsor, New York.
One letter sent to the Waukegan facility describes more than 20 sprains, fractures, bruises and cuts to legs, arms, faces and other parts of the body caused by workers losing control of packages weighing more than 50 pounds.