Study: Southern California Warehouse Workers Face Unsafe Conditions University of California, Riverside

Study: Southern California Warehouse Workers Face Unsafe Conditions

A new study centers on “unsafe and unfair” working conditions in warehouses in southern California.

Inadequate training, sleep deprivation, pressure to work faster and inadequate state and federal OSHA funding has led to “unfair and unsafe” working conditions for warehouse employees in the Inland Empire region in southern California, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, identified labor subcontracting and lack of employer accountability as contributors to unsafe working conditions in the warehouse industry in this region.

In 2010, 114,000 people were hired in warehouses in the Inland Empire, according to the California Employment Development Department. This work force is mostly Latino, of which about half are immigrants. Temporary workers who lack benefits and are paid low wages do much of the work, researchers said.

The study, led by Associate Professor of Sociology Ellen Reese, included 17 semi-structured interviews with warehouse workers, warehouse managers and representatives of temporary employment services. Researchers also combined information from various sources including secondary literature and survey data.

Key findings include:

  • About 40 percent of respondents reported that pressure from management led to injury or illness. Work schedules contribute to sleep deprivation among warehouse workers, which increases the risks of workplace accidents and injuries.
  • Just 22 percent of these workers felt that they had received adequate training before starting the job. Some reported being left to their own devices, teaching themselves to do the job as they went along. Even without proper training, 90 percent of these workers said that they received pressure from supervisors to work faster.
  • Inadequate state and federal funding for OSHA and other Department of Labor offices “undermines efforts to protect worker safety,” a problem that has only worsened in the recent wave of state and federal cutbacks, researchers noted.

“Our research strongly suggests that public policy changes and community support are needed to ensure workplace safety and fairness for warehouse workers,” Reese said. “Federal and state officials need to closely monitor working conditions in the warehouse industry and enforce protective labor laws, and retail companies must be held accountable for unfair and unsafe working conditions.”

The study appears in Policy Matters, a quarterly journal published by UC Riverside.

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