The federal government cited Amazon.com Inc. for failing to keep workers safe at three of its warehouses and told the company to make fundamental changes, the Labor Department announced Wednesday, as investigations continue at three of the company’s other warehouses.
The citations over working conditions at Amazon
warehouses in Florida, Illinois and New York come after what the Labor Department said is the largest enforcement effort on ergonomics by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is conducting a multistate investigation of the company’s warehouses after referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Among the OSHA investigators’ findings: The company’s warehouse workers are at high risk for lower-back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders because they are frequently required to lift heavy items and have to twist, bend and reach during that work. In addition, they work long hours. According to required on-site injury logs inspected by investigators, Amazon warehouse workers experienced high rates of musculoskeletal disorders.
“Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, and they resulted in serious worker injuries,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for OSHA, in a statement. The agency is asking Amazon to make fundamental changes in its workflows and practices, and referred to the company’s famous quotas in its hazard letters to the company.
“Workers face immense pressure to meet the pace of work and production quotas at the risk of sustaining musculoskeletal injuries, which are often acute,” OSHA officials wrote to managers at the company’s Florida and New York warehouses.
OSHA is proposing fines totaling $60,269 for the violations in Deltona, Fla.; Waukegan, Ill.; and New Windsor, N.Y. OSHA’s investigations at three other Amazon locations, in Aurora, Colo.; Nampa, Idaho; and Castleton, N.Y., are in progress.
An Amazon spokesperson said Wednesday the company “strongly” disagrees with the allegations and will appeal.
“We’ve cooperated fully, and the government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel said, adding that “publicly available data show we’ve reduced injury rates nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021.” She also said that as the company appeals, it will share more “about the numerous safety innovations, process improvements, and investments we’re making to further reduce injuries.”
In OSHA’s citations, it asks the warehouses’ managers to make changes including performing ergonomic evaluations; giving ergonomic training to workers and their managers; replacing manual pallet jacks with electric ones; implementing a protocol for teams to handle heavy parcels; revising work assignments after considering the impact of overtime and long work shifts; and reducing employees’ “time on task” by rotating jobs during shifts or increasing the number of breaks.
In Illinois specifically, OSHA cited instances of workers injured by heavy items, such as furniture, fitness equipment, a TV and a grill, that were not secured or stacked properly.
Eric Frumin, health and safety director at the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of three large labor unions, said in a statement Wednesday: “Amazon’s illegal production system and workloads are a daily threat to the safety and the basic job security of Amazon’s own nearly 400,000 warehouse workers — and indeed throughout the warehouse industry.”
Frumin told MarketWatch that by urging Amazon to make changes in work and rest schedules for its warehouse workers, OSHA is setting a precedent.
“OSHA has told the company the pace of work itself is too fast,” he said. “You have to slow it down. You have to give workers breaks. You have to allow them time to recover.”
Amazon, which has a market capitalization just shy of $1 trillion, employed more than 1.6 million full- and part-time workers as of the end of last year, according to its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.