The rate of serious injuries at Amazon warehouses in the United States is more than twice as high as those at other, non-Amazon warehouses, according to a new study that examines injury data supplied to the federal agency that oversees workplace safety.
Amazon employed 33% of all US warehouse workers in 2021, but was responsible for 49% of all injuries in the industry, according to a report published Tuesday by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of four labor unions.
The SOC, which is made up of Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Communications Workers of America, and United Farmworkers of America, analyzed 2021 injury data that Amazon submitted to the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In 2021, there were 38,334 total recordable injuries at Amazon facilities, and among those, roughly 34,000 were considered serious injuries where the workers could no longer perform their regular jobs or had to miss work as a result.
According to the report, Amazon reported 6.8 serious injuries for every 100 of its warehouse workers. By comparison, other warehouses reported 3.3 serious injuries for every 100 workers, the report said. The injury rates are calculated as aggregates of rates at individual locations.
The SOC report comes amid increased attention to the workplace conditions inside Amazon’s facilities. Earlier this month, employees at an Amazon warehouse in New York City became the first to unionize in the country in its 27-year history. The union drive was catalyzed by tensions between Amazon and its warehouse workers during the unprecedented public health crisis, where some vocal workers and labor advocates expressed concern the company was prioritizing profits and productivity over safety.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s treatment of workplace safety is under a microscope in its home state of Washington, where the Department of Labor and Industries last month issued a rare “willful severe” citation and a $60,000 fine to Amazon for knowingly putting its workers at risk of serious injuries in violation of workplace safety laws. Amazon has said it strongly disagrees with the claims and plans to appeal the citation.
The latest SOC report follows a June 2021 report from the same group that examined similar data from 2017 to 2020 and also found Amazon warehouses to be more dangerous than other facilities.
The new report, which notes that injury rates remain higher at the company’s robotic warehouses than its non-robotic warehouses, found a notable decline in injuries in 2020 compared to the year prior. The report notes Amazon’s temporary easing of productivity tracking in the earlier months of the pandemic as a possible contributor.
In a statement regarding the SOC report, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company has hired “tens of thousands of additional people to help us meet the unforeseen demand from Covid-19.”
“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 — however, when you compare 2021 to 2019, our recordable injury rate declined more than 13% year over year,” said Nantel.
The SOC report shows that the injury rate last year is the second-highest in the company’s past five years, with the year 2019 recording the highest rate.
“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, and appreciate the work from all of our employees and safety teams who are contributing to this effort,” said Nantel.
A year ago, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos declared his desire to make Amazon the “Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” Amazon last year announced it would spend $300 million on safety-related projects, including the rollout of an initiative called WorkingWell to provide “physical and mental activities, wellness exercises, and healthy eating support that are scientifically proven to help them recharge and reenergize, and ultimately reduce the risk of injury.” WorkingWell, the company said, would help towards its goal of slashing recordable injury rates in half by 2025.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy demanding documents about company labor practices after six employees were killed in December while working at a distribution center in Illinois struck by a tornado. OSHA is also investigating the deaths at the facility and one of the families is suing the company.