Amazon is under fire from a coalition of labor unions denouncing occupational hazards and injuries at its sprawling warehouse network.
In 2022, 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), according to official data the e-commerce giant submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Citing the OSHA data in an internal report, The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) noted that workers at Amazon facilities sustained nearly 39,000 injuries in 2022.
While Amazon employed 36 percent of all U.S. warehouse workers last year, the company was responsible for more than half (53 percent) of all serious injuries in the industry, the report said.
The SOC argues that Amazon hasn’t made meaningful progress on improving its injury rate or serious injuries over the six-year period from 2017 to 2022.
For example, Amazon’s total injury rate in 2022 was 6.9 injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), which is still higher than the 6.6 per 100 injury rate from just two years earlier. Further, the company’s rate of serious injuries in 2022, which required light duty or lost time, was 6.6 per 100 workers, or 12 percent higher than the 5.9 per 100 rate in 2020.
Compared to 2021, the overall rate of serious injuries in warehouses did see a slight decrease at 3 percent—from 6.8 per 100 to 6.6 per 100—with the SOC presuming that many injured workers were given light duty assignments instead of time off work to recover.
“This is likely the outcome of the company’s longstanding strategy…to discourage workers from taking time off work to recover in order to reduce its workers’ compensation costs, and does not necessarily mean that the injuries are becoming less severe,” the report said.
While the SOC is the one doing the talking now, government agencies like OSHA have been keeping a close eye on Amazon in recent years. So far this year OSHA has fined Amazon on three separate occasions for workplace safety violations across seven warehouse facilities. Amazon has appealed all of OSHA’s citations.
And in the year prior, five Amazon warehouse employees died either at work or in the days after a warehouse incident. While the deaths attracted lawmaker scrutiny, OSHA closed each case without issuing citations or hazard alert letters.
The civil division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York even got into the fray in January, opening an investigation into the Big Tech company for having “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to hide the true number” of worker injuries.
“The facts show that for all its public relations efforts, Amazon is doing far too little to keep workers safe,” said the report. “As safety investigators have repeatedly found, Amazon has the in-house expertise to identify the dangers that its engineers have created in designing warehouses and jobs—but simply fails repeatedly to use that expertise to put workers’ safety first.”
The SOC’s report comes a month after Amazon released its own 2022 safety report, which detailed efforts the company has made to improve workplace safety measures. The company disputes the SOC’s interpretation of the OSHA data.
“The safety and health of our employees is, and always will be, our top priority and any claim otherwise is inaccurate,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told Sourcing Journal. “It’s unsurprising that a self-interested group like this would work to twist the facts to paint an inaccurate picture.”
Nantel said Amazon’s own report shows the company’s network-wide recordable injury rate dropped more than 23 percent since 2019. This 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—the number of injuries resulting in employees needing time away from work—by 53 percent, according to Nantel.
Amazon noted that there’s no official regulatory metric called “serious injury rates,” instead saying that OSHA measures three metrics: recordable injury rates (RIR), lost time incident rates (LTIR) and days away, restricted or transferred (DART) rates. In particular, Amazon said the first two metrics are most useful in injury prevention and mitigation—as RIR and LTIR reflect severe injuries that actually require time away.
The e-commerce giant alleges that some people use DART and “serious injuries” interchangeably, but said that is misleading because DART covers any injury that could lead to an employee taking time away from work or transferring to a different role.
Nevertheless, the SOC remains unwavering in its criticism of the company. The coalition, which represents 2.3 million workers nationwide, asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last year to investigate Amazon for making what the labor collective contends are false and misleading claims about its warehouses.
In a Wednesday press briefing held by the SOC, Daniel Rivera, a worker at Amazon’s San Bernardino air hub, said that the data he sees in Amazon’s safety report didn’t reflect his employee experience.
“I know that’s something we should already expect from our employers, but at Amazon that isn’t my experience,” he said. “Safety is always something we’re fighting for.”
During the briefing, he revealed that he recently suffered a wrist injury because of how quickly he’s expected to work, and has raised concerns about excessive heat and poor air circulation in the facility.
After going to management with the concerns, he alleged that he received an HR complaint later that same day, including a final written warning that he could potentially be terminated. However, Rivera claims that he never received any notice of any kind from Amazon brass prior to the final warning, suggesting that warehouse management was aware of his previous efforts to organize employees on safety concerns.
“We want good jobs for the community and, more importantly, safety on the job,” said Rivera. “Knowing just going to work won’t lead to lifetime pain or serious injuries or death.”