Amazon workers make up only a third of warehouse employees in the United States, but in 2021, they suffered 49 percent of injuries for the entire warehouse industry, according to a report from the Strategic Organizational Center (or SOC). After analyzing data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the union alliance found that Amazon workers are twice as likely to be seriously injured as people who work in other companies’ warehouses.
The report considers “serious injuries” to be those in which workers have to either take time off to recover or reduce workloads, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (pdf) report’s classification of “cases spent days away from work” and “cases of job transfer or restriction.” The data shows that over time, the company has been moving more towards putting people on light tasks, rather than making them take time off. The report’s authors also note that Amazon workers take longer to recover from injuries than employees at other companies: about 62 days on average, versus 44 across the industry.
Amazon employees said the work itself isn’t particularly dangerous, but rather the cumbersome speed that the company’s automated systems require. In fact, Amazon has had workers slow down in 2020 to help fight COVID-19, accounting for significantly lower infection rates that year. But, as the report notes, infections increased by about 20 percent between 2020 and 2021 as the company resumed its usual pace – although infection rates for 2021 were still lower than in 2019.
It’s also worth noting that even as the pace of work slows in 2020, Amazon has come under fire for the way it has handled workers in its response to COVID-19, particularly in New York, where regulators were eager to start working toward unionization in company warehouses. New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, also sued Amazon, claiming it failed to protect workers and retaliated against them (including firing regulator Christian Smalls) after they spoke.
Unfortunately, the results of this study tell the same story we’ve been hearing for years. Even as infection rates drop in 2020, Amazon workers are still affected twice as much as other warehouse workers, according to the SOC. Tuesday’s report also shows that Amazon’s human workers (called “industrial athletes”) are more susceptible to injuries when working in automated warehouses — a fact that Amazon has known for years, according to internal documents. As CNBC points out, Amazon says it wants to become the safest place to work, but the company may need to overhaul its entire system to achieve that goal.
In a statement emailed to the edgeAmazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the jump in injuries from 2020 to 2021 was due to a large number of new workers:
We’ve hired tens of thousands of additional people to help us meet unexpected demand from COVID-19 and people who are turning to Amazon for help getting products and supplies safely during the pandemic. Like other companies in the industry, we’ve seen an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained many new people – however, when comparing between 2021 and 2019, our recordable injury rate is down more than 13% year-over-year. . . While we still have more work to do and will not be satisfied until we are excellent when it comes to safety, we continue to make measurable improvements in reducing injuries and keeping employees safe, and we value the work that all of our employees and safety teams do. who contribute to this effort.
Update April 12th, 4:56pm ET: Statement added from Amazon.