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AP

Amazon Injury Rate Nearly Twice Walmart's

Their robotic goals are causing workers to get hurt at alarming rates

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 17, 2021

Over the last ten years, Amazon has seen exponential growth. Once the butt of jokes about the company was not profitable, they have now become the second-largest retailer in the United States, their CEO is the richest man in the world, and they have expanded from employing 33,700 people in 2010 to 1.3 million in 2020. However, the quick growth has come with a cost as Amazon continues to see the highest rates of injury of any warehouse company.

According to a report that was put together by the Strategic Organizing Center using publicly available data from OSHA, workers at Amazon face substantially higher rates of workplace injuries than non-Amazon workers in the same industries. In 2020 alone, the company reported 658 injuries among their warehouse and last-mile delivery workers. This was a 180% increase in injuries over the 366 that were reported in 2019.

In comparison to some of Amazon’s biggest competitors, these injury rates are enormous. The Strategic Organizing Center found that over the last four years Amazon’s rate of injury per 100 workers was significantly higher and in 2020 it was 6.5 injuries per 100 workers. Their biggest competitor Walmart only had a 3.0 per 100 workers. The national average was about 4.0 per 100 workers. Amazon’s severe injury rate was also about 2.5 times larger than Walmart’s. The report also found that when they talked to Amazon workers, about 40% of them said that they missed work due to experiencing pain or injury from work, but most of these were not reported to OSHA.

What is most surprising is that the 2020 numbers could have been much worse. In 2019 the injury rate per 100 workers was actually higher at 9.0 per 100 workers. However, once COVID-19 hit, the company began to relax some of its more strenuous requirements such as suspending workers for underperforming. This may have led to less stress on the body and fewer injuries. However, workers who responded to an online survey in February 2021 said that many of these requirements were back, meaning that 2021 could once again see a surge in injuries.

While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos claims to be investing in new programs to prevent workplace injuries and muscle strains, workers say that management isn’t too sympathetic to their pain. 37% of Amazon workers who replied to the February survey said that they had been pressured by management to return to work before they felt physically ready to. 74% of workers said they returned to work and continued to suffer pain and were further injured.

OSHA reports also show that injury rates at Amazon went up in fulfillment centers with robotic technology. In 2019, the last year that the data is sorted by facility, the facility with robotic technology has a 7.9 per 100 workers rate of injury while non-robotic warehouses had a 5.1 per 100 workers rate of injury. This is a 54% increase in warehouses with robots.

“The higher rates of injury in these robotic warehouses are not a surprise given the ways in which the technology interacts with workers,” said the Strategic Organizing Center. “For example, this technology also allows management to more closely monitor workers to make sure that they are keeping up with the robots. When a worker picks or stows an item, a timer starts counting down, tracking the seconds until the worker picks or stows the next item. If the lag between tasks is too long, the time is logged as “time off task.” Amazon’s computer systems track both the number of items workers pick each shift and their time off task, alerting managers to discipline, or even fire, workers who are not able to keep up with the robots.”

Amazon delivery was also a place where a high incidence of injuries has occurred. In just the time period from 2017 to 2019, Amazon deliveries saw a twenty-fold increase in workers from 11,147 to 199,447. These workers are under intense pressure to rush to meet the company’s delivery demands with some workers saying that they are even forced to pee in their trucks to avoid a bathroom break that might put them behind schedule. While the injury rate at warehouses in 2020 was 6.3 per 100 workers, the injury rate among delivery workers was significantly higher. At the delivery stations, it was 9.5 per 100 workers and within Amazon Deliver Service Partners it was an astounding 13.3 per 100 workers. For comparison in 2020, the injury rate for workers at UPS was 9 per 100 workers and most of those injuries were deemed “light duty injuries” whereas for Amazon most of the injuries were “lost time” injuries.

As Amazon continues to grow, the company continues to prioritize speed over safety. While many of these injuries might be minor or might not be life-changing, workers like Billy Foister, a 48-year-old Amazon warehouse worker have died on the job. Between November of 2018 and April of 2019, six workers died in Amazon warehouses in just six months. While Jeff Bezos keeps getting richer, workers continue to be pushed so hard they injure or kill themselves.

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