Amazon has been called out yet again for workplace safety violations, marking the seventh facility government inspectors found ignoring well-known hazards so far this year.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the Seattle-based e-commerce giant for exposing workers to ergonomic hazards at a facility in Colorado.
The Colorado Springs delivery site processes 5,000 to 10,000 packages per hour and receives roughly 50,000 packages every day.
The inspection on Aug. 16 last year came in response to an employee complaining of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) related to how many packages the facility processes, as well as obstructed fire exits. OSHA has proposed $15,625 in penalties in accordance with federal statutes.
“We continue to find that Amazon’s work processes are designed for speed, not safety, and that these processes cause serious injuries to workers,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health. “Amazon needs to focus more of its passion for innovation and performance on eliminating the hazards that injure workers.”
Amazon plans to appeal the ruling, a company spokesperson told Sourcing Journal.
“We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously, and we don’t believe the government’s allegations reflect the reality of safety at our sites,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve cooperated with OSHA and demonstrated how we work to mitigate risks and keep our people safe, and our publicly available data shows we reduced injury rates in the U.S. nearly 15 percent between 2019 and 2021. There will always be more to do, and we’ll continue working to get better every day.”
The citations mark the third time this year that OSHA has fined Amazon. On Jan. 18 and Feb. 1, the agency issued hazard alert letters for similar violations at six Amazon warehouse facilities in Deltona, Fla.; Waukegan, Ill.; New Windsor and Castleton, N.Y.; Nampa, Idaho; and Aurora, Col., following referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
The two penalties resulted in fines of more than $107,000.
According to OSHA, Amazon failed to properly remove the recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause serious physical harm to employees—particularly that workers were required to perform tasks resulting in stressors that had caused, were causing or were likely to cause sprains, strains and similar injuries.
Employees loading a conveyor belt, for example, are required to reach, twist and bend while repeatedly lifting packages from the bottom and the top of go-carts or gaylord boxes. This puts workers at risk of suffering lower back injuries, according to OSHA.
OSHA has frequently accused Amazon of shortcomings in the workplace. The agency launched multiple investigations into Amazon warehouse-related worker deaths in New Jersey and Pennsylvania last year. The deaths attracted lawmaker scrutiny of the e-commerce giant amid efforts to improve safety measures at its warehouses. However, OSHA closed those cases without issuing citations or hazard alert letters.
The tech titan invested $300 million in safety improvements in 2021, including $66.5 million to create technology that would help prevent collisions of forklifts and other types of industrial vehicles. The company also implemented a WorkingWell coaching program in 2020 to tackle the MSD problem, which can be caused by repetitive motions. The program cut these health problems by 32 percent from 2019 to 2020.
But despite these efforts, the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of labor unions representing more than 4 million workers, argued that Amazon reports misleading information about worker injury rates compared to the wider warehouse and storage industry.
Then there’s Amazon bigger labor battles, which spawned the first successful unionization of employees at the company’s Staten Island, N.Y. warehouse last year. When a fire broke out at the site in October, some 650 employees stopped work for nearly three hours after being told to report back. While more than 50 workers were suspended as a result of the protest, the actions kept Amazon’s safety record in the public eye.
The worker-employer tension extends overseas. Last month, Amazon faced its first warehouse worker strike in the U.K. when employees walked off the job to protest a wage increase that they say fails to keep up with searing inflation.
OSHA has made of trying to improve workplace safety in this area of logistics, launching a regional initiative last year to protect workers and reduce injuries and illnesses in the warehousing, storage and distribution yards’ industries.
The program deployed in Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and Washington coordinated outreach, education efforts and on-site inspections, to help businesses identify hazardous workplace conditions and hold industry employers accountable for providing a safe workplace.
The federal agency has also found repeated failures at Dollar General, issuing more than $15 million in fines since 2017 after finding workplace safety violations from 180 store inspections. In the past 11 months alone, OSHA inspections at 19 stores in Alabama, Florida and Georgia have uncovered dozens of violations. Industry discount rival Dollar Tree was fined $1.23 million by OSHA in August related to problems at two Ohio stores.
Last month, OSHA also levied nearly $240,000 in fines against the owner of TJ Maxx and Marshalls for putting workers at risk of fire, entrapment and other hazards.
Amazon has 15 business days from receipt of the current citations and proposed penalty to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.