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Indiana Investigates Amazon Warehouse Death

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) is investigating the death of a worker at an Amazon cross-dock facility in Fort Wayne, Ind. that occurred earlier this month.

On May 8, 20-year-old Caes Gruesbeck struck his head on an overhead conveyor belt system while driving a one-man lift underneath it to clear a jam. The employee was wearing proper personal protective equipment, including a hard hat and fall protection. According to an Amazon spokesperson, Gruesbeck was trained to operate this equipment.

After the accident, Gruesbeck was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

IOSHA opened the investigation a day after the incident.

An autopsy by the Allen County Coroner’s Office determined that Gruesbeck’s death was the result of an accidental blunt force injury.

Amazon closed the warehouse immediately after the incident occurred and sent workers home with pay. It also canceled the night shift and paid those employees for that time. The facility resumed operations two-and-a-half days later.

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“We continue to grieve the loss of our colleague, and our thoughts and prayers remain with his loved ones and our team at the facility,” Maureen Lynch Vogel, an Amazon spokesperson, told Sourcing Journal. “We’re working closely with authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident and implement corrective actions to enhance safety. We’re also ensuring our employees have everything they need to feel supported, including counseling services, and will continue to do so in the days and weeks ahead.”

Lynch Vogel said the e-commerce giant’s standard procedure is to proactively alert IOSHA when an incident occurs so they can choose to investigate.

IOSHA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Information from the inspection may not be publicly available until weeks after.

IOSHA wouldn’t issue any citations until six months after the event occurred, even if the agency determines Amazon violated safety standards.

IOSHA and the Department of Justice are currently investigating several Amazon warehouses over safety issues and working conditions.

Prior to the Fort Wayne incident, federal OSHA issued four citations across seven Amazon facilities so far this year for ignoring safety hazards. Most recently, the agency said Amazon failed to provide adequate medical treatment for traumatic and chronic injuries at a fulfillment center in Castleton, N.Y.

At the time, OSHA said at least six employees with head injuries and four with back injuries did not receive timely, necessary medical care. Injured workers were returned to their jobs and, in many cases, their injuries became worse as a result.

In 2022, four Amazon employees died on the job at company warehouses, with a fifth worker dying days after a forklift crash.

Amazon released a workplace safety report in March highlighting many of the improvements it has made in recent years, particularly after investing $300 million in safety improvements including $66.5 million to create technology that will help prevent collisions of forklifts and other types of industrial vehicles.

The report, citing data from 2022, showed the company’s network-wide recordable injury rate (RIR) dropped more than 23 percent since 2019, and 11 percent since from the year before. The RIR metric indicates how often an injury or illness occurs at work—measured in injuries per 200,000 working hours. The tech titan also reduced lost time incident rates (LTIR)—the number of injuries resulting in employees needing time away from work—by 53 percent.

The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), however, claims Amazon’s numbers are misleading.

Citing data Amazon submitted to OSHA, the coalition pointed out that the serious injury rate at Amazon warehouses was 6.6 per 100 workers—more than double the rate at non-Amazon warehouses (3.2 per 100) and down from from 6.8 in 2021.

At the time, Amazon disputed SOC’s interpretation of the data, with a spokesperson saying: “It’s unsurprising that a self-interested group like this would work to twist the facts to paint an inaccurate picture.”

Beyond the worker safety concerns, the Seattle company continues fighting labor battles, with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issuing five complaints against Amazon Monday claiming that it enforced an unlawful “off-duty access” rule that banned employees from its facilities when not on shift.

The five complaints are on behalf of nine warehouses in Bessemer, Ala.; Staten Island, N.Y.; Joliet, Ill.; Channahon, Ill.; Monee, Ill.; Romeoville, Ill.; Covington, Pa.; Swedesboro, N.J.; and Kenosha, Wisc.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the agency name to Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A previous version incorrectly stated the name as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.