amazon warehouse
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Parcels move through Amazon's warehouse on December 5, 2014 in Hemel Hempstead, England. In the lead up to Christmas, Amazon is experiencing the busiest time of the year. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Does Amazon Care About Worker Safety?

Despite numerous statements stressing safety is a priority, Amazon continues to expose workers to unsafe work conditions.

Amazon employees attend safety school and receive ergonomic assessments, and each of the company’s facilities has a “robust safety program,” according to the multi-billion dollar e-commerce giant.

Despite these claims, the online retailer is known for a pattern of worker fatalities, numerous injuries and claims of unsafe working conditions.

The latest outcry to hold Amazon accountable for workplace safety comes after bear repellant spray discharged at a New Jersey warehouse, sending 24 workers to the hospital.

"Today, Amazon put warehouse workers in the hospital – again and one is fighting for their life in the ICU right now. Amazon's automated robots put humans in life-threatening danger today, the effects of which could be catastrophic and the long-term effects for 80+ workers are unknown,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. “

Worker advocates and Amazon employees cross the globe are calling for harsher penalties as the company’s track record for injuries and fatalities continues to grow.

The Dirty Dozen

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) placed Amazon on its 2018 “Dirty Dozen" report of "employers who put workers and communities at risk."

Criteria for inclusion in the list included severity of injuries to workers; exposure to unnecessary and preventable risk; repeat citations by relevant state and federal authorities; and activity by workers to improve their health and safety conditions, according to National COSH.

"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,” a company representative said. “Any safety incident that occurs within our operations is one too many.”

Amazon has been the subject of dozens of OSHA investigations over the past few years, resulting in numerous health and safety violations.

“Amazon workers suffer injuries – and sometimes lose their lives – in a work environment with a relentless demand to fill orders and close monitoring of employee actions,” National COSH stated.

Since 2013, the following seven workers were killed in Amazon warehouses:

  • Jeff Lockhart, 29, a temporary employee, found collapsed and dead from a cardiac event after an overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, VA on Jan. 19, 2013.
  • Roland 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 2017).
  • 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.
  • Devan Michael Shoemaker, age 28, was killed on Sept. 19, 2017 when he was run over by a truck at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pa.
  • Phillip Terry, 59, was killed on Sept. 24, 2017, when his head was crushed by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Ind.
  • Four weeks later, on October 23, Karla Kay Arnold, 50, died from multiple injuries after she was hit by a sports utility vehicle in the parking lot of an Amazon warehouse in Monee, Ill.

A Global Issue

Workplace safety isn’t just a domestic issue for Amazon. GMB Union, a 600,000-member strong trade union in the United Kingdom, staged Black Friday protests across the country, citing “the awful conditions people work under at Amazon warehouses.”

According to news reports, GMB discovered ambulances were dispatched to warehouse locations more than 600 times over a three-year period.

The company released the following response, "Our European Fulfillment Network is fully operational and we continue to focus on delivering for our customers. Any reports to the contrary are simply wrong."

Amazon continued a rebuttal in a second statement:

“All of our sites are safe places to work and reports to the contrary are simply wrong," Amazon said. "According to the U.K. Government's Health and Safety Executive, Amazon has over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the U.K. We encourage everyone to compare our pay, benefits and working conditions to others and come see for yourself on one of the public tours we offer every day at our centers across the UK uk.amazonfctours.com."

 “The richest company in the world cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people's lives at risk,” Appelbaum said. “Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices."

Amazon employs more than 1,000 health and safety professionals at its fulfillment centers across North America, according to the company.

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