Amazon has been accused by federal safety regulators of failing to keep warehouse workers safe from workplace hazards at three US facilities, in the latest example of government officials scrutinizing the e-commerce giant’s labor practices.
The Department of Labor said Wednesday that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Amazon and issued hazard letters related to injury risks from workers lifting packages after inspecting three warehouse facilities in Deltona, Florida; Waukegan, Illinois; and New Windsor, New York.
“Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, and they resulted in serious worker injuries,” Doug Park, assistant secretary of labor at OSHA, said in a statement Wednesday.
“While Amazon has developed impressive systems to make sure its customers’ orders are shipped efficiently and quickly, the company has failed to show the same level of commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its workers,” Parker added.
The DOL said that OSHA investigators found Amazon warehouse workers to be at higher risk for lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders related to the high frequency with which its workers are required to lift packages, the weight of these items, awkward postures required while lifting, and the long hours required to complete assigned tasks.
The agency said Amazon faces a total of $60,269 in proposed penalties.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company “strongly” disagrees with OSHA’s claims and intends to appeal.
“We’ve cooperated fully, and the government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, told CNN in a statement Wednesday. “Over the last several months we’ve demonstrated the extent to which we work every day to mitigate risk and protect our people, and our publicly available data show we’ve reduced injury rates nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021.”
Nantel said the company looks forward to sharing more information during the appeal process “about the numerous safety innovations, process improvements, and investments we’re making to further reduce injuries.”
The company said it has taken a number of steps to reduce the risk of injuries, including by introducing stretching groups, reminding workers to take breaks and rotating jobs. But Amazon is also known for carefully tracking worker productivity and for working conditions that have been called “grueling.”
“We have to keep up with the pace,” Jennifer Bates, an Amazon warehouse employee who helped organize a union push at an Alabama facility, said in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee in 2021. “My workday feels like a nine-hour intense workout every day. And they track our every move.”
A study published last year by a coalition of labor unions found that the rate of serious injuries in 2021 at Amazon’s US warehouses was twice as high as those at other, non-Amazon warehouses. At the time, Amazon said it and other companies “saw an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained so many new people” in order to meet demand early in the pandemic.