Two recent deaths within a week at Amazon warehouses in Pennsylvania and Indiana show the need for strict accountability in exchange for public subsidies, say workplace safety and economic development experts.
Through a spokesperson, Amazon released the following statement: "Safety is our number one priority, and as we do with any incident, we are reviewing our practices and protocols to ensure the well-being of our employees. Any safety incident that occurs within our operations is one too many.”
Devan Michael Shoemaker, age 28, was killed on Sept. 19 when he was run over by a truck at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pa. According to the Pennsylvania State Police, he was trying to loosen the kingpin between a truck and its trailer when he was run over by the truck driver, according to new details released by Pennsylvania State Police. The plan was to move the truck slightly in order for Shoemaker to grease the connection between the kingpin, which is under the trailer, and a hitch at the back of the truck. Shoemaker was crushed by the truck.
Phillip Terry, 59, was killed on Sept. 24, when his head was crushed by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Ind. Amazon released a statement following Terry’s death that said, “Our thoughts are with our associate's family and loved ones during this very difficult time. Safety is our number one priority, and as we do with any incident like this, we will be reviewing our practices and protocols to ensure the well-being of our employees.”
OSHA is investigating both incidents. Including the recent deaths of Shoemaker and Terry, five workers have died in Amazon warehouses since 2013 due to workplace incidents. OSHA has cited the company and temporary agencies it uses to staff its facilities for safety violations.
“Getting consumer goods dropped right on your doorstep is nice, but who is paying the price?” asked Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “There is a disturbing pattern of preventable deaths at Amazon. Two workers have been crushed to death by forklifts, one dragged into a conveyor belt, another crushed by a pallet loader and one run over by a truck. The company monitors every move of both permanent and temporary employees to meet intense demands for high-speed delivery. But is it paying enough attention to workplace safety?”
In addition to the recent deaths of Devan Michael Shoemaker and Phillip Terry, other workers who have lost their lives while working at Amazon facilities include:
Ronald Smith, 57, a temporary employee, was killed after being dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt at an Amazon warehouse in Avenel, N.J. on Dec. 4, 2013. OSHA cited five companies for serious violations, including the contractor responsible for operating the facility for Amazon – Genco – and four temporary staffing agencies.
Jody Rhoads, 52, was crushed and pinned to death by a pallet loader at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pa., on June 1, 2014. (This is the same facility where Shoemaker was killed in September).
A worker for a company from whom Amazon was renting forklifts was crushed to death by one at an Amazon warehouse in Fernley, Nev., on Nov. 4, 2014. According to news reports, he was loading the forklift onto a flatbed truck when it began to roll forward. He tried to stop it but the forklift fell on him.
“Taxpayers should not subsidize low-road employers with dangerous working conditions, high turnover and poverty wages,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First. “Governments considering whether to bid for white-collar jobs at Amazon should first look at how the company and its temp agency subcontractors treat blue-collar workers.”
Added Martinez, ““When Amazon lobbies for lucrative tax breaks, it is asking the public to become partners in its business – to the tune of billions of dollars,” said Martinez. “If we’re partners, we have a right to demand the highest standards for workplace safety.”
Dozens of Inspections, Few Violations
According to an establishment search on OSHA’s web site, Amazon locations – including fulfillment centers and warehouses that often are run by contractors on behalf of Amazon – have been targeted dozens of times by the agency. Many of those inspections or partial inspections were spawned by complaints made to OSHA. The facilities are listed as “non-union,” so it’s possible the complaints are related to organizing efforts. What is unusual is that few citations resulted from the inspections. Most were related to machine guarding, electrical, recordkeeping, fire extinguishers and signs and labels.
Amazon has over 1,000 health and safety professionals at its fulfillment centers across North America. Year-to-date, the company has conducted 3.9 million safety checks, with 3.4 of those occurring in its fulfillment centers. All new employees attend "safety school," and employees receive ergonomic assessments and Amazon facilities feature robust safety programs, according to the company.