Tech

Amazon downplayed rising injury rates at its warehouses, investigation finds

Key Points
  • An investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative reporting found that Amazon has sought to downplay rising injury rates inside its warehouses and could be under-reporting injuries at some of its warehouses. 
  • The probe found that injury rates are higher at warehouses with heavy automation, despite Amazon's claims that such technology would improve worker safety. 
Amazon fulfillment center warehouse.
Getty Images

Injuries inside Amazon's warehouses continue to be on the rise, despite the company's claims that it has invested tens of millions of dollars to improve safety measures, according to a wide-ranging probe published Tuesday by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The investigation found that Amazon's injury rates have steadily increased each year since 2016, based on internal safety reports and weekly injury numbers from 150 Amazon fulfillment centers that were obtained by Reveal.

Amazon told CNBC in a statement that it "strongly refutes the claims" that it misled the public on its workplace injury rates. The company disputed Reveal's characterization of "serious injuries," noting that the metric, referred to by OSHA as a "DART rate," can include any type of injury, "for example a small strain or sprain." However, Amazon's statement does not dispute Reveal's reporting that injury rates rose.

"While we often accommodate employees with restrictions so that they can continue to work with full pay and benefits, we don't believe an employer should be penalized when it encourages an associate to remain away from work if that will better promote their healing," Amazon said. "As a company, while we constantly learn and improve from the past, we focus on inventing programs that create a safer work environment, and we provide comprehensive health benefits starting on day one of employment."

Amazon added that it continues to see "improvements in injury prevention and reduction" through things like providing workspace assistance equipment, using forklift guardrails to separate equipment from pedestrians and programs focused on improved ergonomics.

In 2019, Amazon recorded 14,000 serious injuries across its fulfillment centers, which equates to an injury rate of 7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees, Reveal found. That's nearly double the most recent industry standard, according to Reveal. 

Amazon may also be underreporting warehouse worker injuries. A physician who inspected Amazon warehouses for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that workers at some Amazon facilities were being discouraged from reporting injuries and seeking outside medical care, according to Reveal.

Another company initiative designed to curtail "lost-time injuries," or those requiring time off work, ended up preventing them from being counted as lost time, according to Reveal, directly contradicting Amazon executives' framing that such injuries were down due to enhanced safety measures. 

The internal reports also showed that injury rates were higher at Amazon facilities that are heavily automated, as well as during "peak season," which refers to Amazon's annual Prime Day discount event and the holiday shopping period. Reveal found that workers at robotic fulfillment centers were expected to pick up and scan roughly 400 items an hour, compared with the standard rate of 100 items per hour at other facilities.

Additionally, monthly injury rates from 2019 showed the highest spike in reported incidents around Prime Day, which is typically held in July, while other internal safety reports indicated a lack of on-site safety officials, according to Reveal.

Amazon has increasingly introduced robotic systems in its warehouses since its acquisition of Kiva Systems for $775 million in 2012. Robots and machines play a growing part in the process of picking, packing and shipping orders inside Amazon warehouses. As Amazon has expanded the use of robots in its facilities, the company has maintained that the technology helps to "increase efficiency and safety."

The company's safety record has been a topic of controversy in the past. A separate Reveal investigation found that serious injuries are much higher at Amazon facilities compared with national averages. Additionally, an investigation by NBC News last year found that Amazon's delivery service partners, third-party contractors that deliver packages for Amazon, implement lax safety measures. 

Read the full story by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting here. 

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