Amazon warehouse employees have been calling out the company for years, about everything from a lack of bathroom breaks to unsafe working conditions. Because of Amazon’s high quotas and tough demands, warehouse employees get injured at nearly double the rate of warehouse workers at other companies.
Recently, an investigation by WIRED found that Amazon’s in-house first aid clinics have pressured injured employees to continue working. One case study from the investigation looked at Jennifer Crane, a warehouse employee who is allotted 37 seconds to assemble a box, find the item for the order, package it, and apply the shipping label. Her shifts can last 10 hours, and in the fall of 2022, Jennifer felt a shooting pain in her arm while lifting a heavy box.
The staff at Amazon’s first aid clinic told Jennifer it was just a sprain and to get back to work after being allowed to ice her arm for 20 minutes. Jennifer demanded to see a doctor instead and was moved to a less physically demanding cleaning role while she awaited her appointment. She was eventually diagnosed with a torn ligament in her wrist, which she suffered through during her 10-hour shifts while dusting and mopping the warehouse.
An email from an Amazon safety director revealed that by moving injured employees into a less demanding role and using in-house medical staff, the company can reduce the number of injuries they have to report to the federal government. It also allows Amazon to save costs on workers’ compensation insurance, which exists to compensate employees who get injured at work.
In another case, a worker injured his ankle and was moved to a “light duty” position just like Jennifer Crane. In this situation, however, the employee still had to stand on his injured ankle, which wasn’t much better than his regular role. However, if he were to deny this new role, he could lose eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits.
OSHA is the federal entity in charge of workplace safety standards, and its recommended practices provide a step-by-step approach to ensuring employee safety. By holding employers responsible for unsafe working conditions and accidents that occur, companies are encouraged to meet safety standards.
OSHA has been investigating and citing Amazon’s sketchy business practices for years. One of these repeat citations is for medical mismanagement after OSHA determined that Amazon is endangering employees’ health by not sending them to a doctor. Employees who only get substandard in-house medical care have gotten infections or developed prolonged injuries as a result. Despite often trying to refer injured workers to doctors, the staff at these in-house medical clinics are subsequently pressured by higher-ups to retract these referrals in order to keep numbers looking good. This leaves medical staff caught in the middle between following orders and best practices for injuries.
OSHA is currently investigating 18 Amazon warehouses for issues including ergonomic hazards. These hazards refer to the constant standing and rotation movements required by workers, combined with fast-paced work requirements that lead to a high rate of back pain and musculoskeletal disorders. Amazon has appealed OSHA’s citations and denied all allegations. They claim they don’t enforce quotas on employees, they just have “performance expectations.” Amazon also says it will invest $550 million into safety initiatives during 2023. So which is it – are the allegations false, or do their safety standards need a facelift?
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