Amazon Is Less Than Prime When It Comes to Protecting Workers. Just Ask OSHA

For the fourth straight year, the e-commerce giant has reported higher injury rates for warehouse workers than their industry peers.
By: | June 15, 2021

Amazon is once again making headlines for its treatment of workers and the safety of its warehouses. But it’s not good news.

A new report from the Washington Post analyzing worker injury data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that in 2020 workers at Amazon warehouses were more likely to experience serious injuries than their peers at other warehouses.

This is the fourth straight year Amazon warehouse workers have experienced higher rates of serious injury than their industry peers.

This report comes after the company has faced years of criticism from OSHA, union officials and former employees for its strict productivity quotas, which many believe lead to higher injury rates.

Amazon’s Injuries By the Numbers

  • The Washington Post’s analysis found that for every 200,000 hours worked at a U.S. Amazon warehouse, there were 5.9 serious injuries. Serious injuries are defined as those requiring job restrictions or days off work.
  • This rate is nearly double that of other warehouse employees. Wal-Mart, one of Amazon’s competitors, reported only 2.5 serious injuries per every 200,000 hours worked in 2020.
  • Though the company still has higher injury rates, Amazon appears to be closing the gap between its warehouse injury rate and those of other firms. Last year, Amazon had 7.8 serious injuries per 200,000 hours worked compared to only 3.1 serious injuries at non-Amazon warehouses. This year, the gap was 5.9 to 3.1.
  • 5,411 warehousing and storage facilities sent injury reports to OSHA in 2020. Amazon owned 638 of them.

What’s Driving These Injuries?

Critics, including former OSHA officials, former Amazon workers and union officials, point to Amazon’s productivity and performance goals as being a main driver of injuries.

The firm pressures warehouse staff at delivery stations and fulfillment and sorting centers to meet hourly rates to scan, stow and pack items. A former Amazon warehouse employee in California told The Atlantic that she “had to scan a new item every 11 seconds to hit her quota.”

In a letter to shareholders this past April, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said the company does not set unreasonable performance goals and that its targets are based on employee tenure and previous performance data.

The company has previously stated its injury rates are so high, because they aggressively record worker injuries and do not allow workers to return to their jobs before they’ve recovered. Though, the company received a $7,000 fine from OSHA in 2016 for not recording about two dozen worker injuries at one of their warehouses.

This is not the first time Amazon has come under fire over its workplace injury rates.

OSHA named the e-commerce giant one of the most dangerous places to work in 2018 due to the firm’s warehouse conditions.

In 2019, a deep dive by The Atlantic and the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting found there were 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time Amazon workers in 2018. The average for the warehousing industry that year was four.

Like more recent critics, The Atlantic article attributed injuries to the productivity quota system.

Workers’ Comp Takeaways

Amazon’s high injury rates demonstrate the importance of ensuring warehouse workers and other industrial employees receive proper ergonomic training and that they understand safety should come before productivity in the workplace.

While The Washington Post’s report did not include details of injury causes, a 2019 survey of Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island found that musculoskeletal injuries, especially those caused by bending, twisting and lifting, may be the primary culprit.

Around a quarter of workers who reported feeling pain attributed it to their feet, knees and lower back. Of the 145 workers surveyed, 66% said they felt pain while performing their regular work duties and 42% said they continue to feel pain outside of work hours.

These types of injuries can be prevented by regular ergonomic training for employees and through ensuring employees use tools like lift assists when handling heavy objects.

Employers can also encourage workplace safety by repeatedly reminding employees that productivity should not get in the way of their safety. &

Courtney DuChene is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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