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Study: Amazon Workers Injured More Often Than Counterparts

One- and two-day deliveries from Amazon sometimes come with the extra cost of a worker becoming injured from moving too quickly. Research suggests Amazon should place more emphasis on safety.

Workers at an Amazon fulfillment center.
Shutterstock/Frederic Legrand
(TNS) — Amazon warehouse workers are twice as likely to be injured as other warehouse laborers, according to a recent study, and an Inland Empire warehouse worker advocacy group says on-the-job injuries are even worse in Amazon’s California warehouses.

“The Injury Machine: How Amazon’s Production System Hurts Workers” pointed to the online retailer’s emphasis on fast delivery for endangering workers at fulfillment centers like those dotting the Inland Empire’s landscape — part of a logistics boom that’s transformed the local economy and made the region a key cog in the national supply chain.

“Amazon’s back-breaking work pace is only getting worse,” Eric Frumin, director of health and safety at the Strategic Organizing Center, which wrote the study, said in a news release. “ … The company’s obsession with speed is crushing tens of thousands of workers each year, and Amazon seems to have no plan to stop.”

The Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions, attributes its findings to its review of injury data submitted by Amazon to OSHA.

In an emailed statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company “hired tens of thousands of additional people” to meet the demand for online shopping spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Like other companies in the industry, we saw an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained so many new people,” Nantel said, adding that federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration data showed Amazon’s recordable injury rate fell more than 13% from 2019 to 2021 while the rate for “three other large retailers” rose.

“While we still have more work to do and won’t be satisfied until we are excellent when it comes to safety, we continue to make measurable improvements in reducing injuries and keeping employees safe,” Nantel said.

Safety is always a focus for the logistics industry, Rex Beck, a professor of business and logistics management at Norco College, said via email.

“Safety has forever been an area of concern in warehousing and it will continue to be so in the future. There is always room for improvement,” Beck said. “With assistance from Cal/OSHA, I am hopeful that Amazon will focus on future worker safety and training.”

Amazon has at least 15 fulfillment centers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to a company that helps businesses selling goods on Amazon.

Union drives have started at Amazon facilities nationwide, with workers voting to unionize in Alabama and Staten Island. Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, which advocates for Inland warehouse workers, said he’s not aware of any active union campaigns at Inland Amazon sites.

A look at 2021 Amazon injury data “finds that the company has not only failed to make any progress on improving its injury rates, but has performed substantially worse than in the previous year, raising significant questions about Amazon management’s commitment to preventing worker injuries,” the study’s authors wrote.

According to the study:

  • Amazon workers suffered almost 40,000 injuries in 2021. “While Amazon employed 33% of all U.S. warehouse workers in 2021, the company was responsible for a staggering 49% of all injuries in the industry last year.”
  • Amazon workers were seriously injured — defined as being injured enough to miss work or lose the ability to perform regular job duties — at a rate of 6.8 injuries per 100 workers in 2021. The rate at non-Amazon warehouses was 3.3 per 100.
  • “Warehouse workers at Amazon who are seriously injured need nearly 19 days more to recover from their injuries than non-Amazon workers.”
  • For the fifth year in a row, injuries at Amazon warehouses that use robots were higher than those without robots.
  • Amazon’s injury rate fell in 2020, the same year the company, responding to COVID-19, stopped disciplining employees for not meeting productivity metrics. Amazon “reimplemented its work rate” in October 2020, just ahead of Prime Day, an annual shopping event akin to Black Friday. “Not surprisingly, injury rates increased in 2021 in tandem with the reimplementation of Amazon’s immense production pressures on workers.”

The injury problem is worse in California, according to Kaoosji’s center. A review of California numbers shows injury rates at Amazon’s California warehouses rose 30% between 2020 and 2021 — “a rate that was over 60% higher than the rate of injuries at other warehouse companies in the state,” the center’s news release read.

Amazon’s California workforce has grown as the company adds more fulfillment centers. While that may contribute to the rise in injuries, “If the pace of work is too fast for workers, that is a health and safety issue that leads to injury,” Marco Montoya of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center said via email.

Amazon’s Redlands fulfillment center “had the highest year-on-year (injury) increase in 2021 of any large Amazon warehouse in the state,” the release read, adding that injury rates exceeded the national average at Amazon warehouses at 36 of 51 Amazon facilities in California, including San Bernardino, Moreno Valley, Rialto and Eastvale.

The study’s findings weren’t surprising to Kaoosji.

“When you get one- and two-day delivery, it’s not magical,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s because a human being is running and driving really fast … people are moving too quickly. You’re rushing so you don’t see that forklift in front of you.”

Amazon has money to train people as they come in, and there needs to be more emphasis on safety training, Kaoosji said.

Last September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation making California the first state in the nation to limit retail warehouse worker production quotas.

That law, AB 701, went into effect Jan. 1. Kaoosji said his center is collecting data to see what effect AB 701 is having and is educating workers about their rights under the new law.

The study “makes conclusions and uses language guided somewhat by their perspective” as a pro-labor group, Rex Beck, a professor of business and logistics management at Norco College, said via email. “Others may describe things somewhat differently, especially given the stresses that COVID placed on our supply chain.”

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