Automation has long been touted as a technology that will significantly impact the way that businesses will operate in the future, and perhaps no organisation has evangelised about it more than Amazon, especially when it comes to the automation of its warehouses and fulfilment centres.
This is why it’s particularly concerning to hear about a recent report published by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal website.
The report looked at the number of serious injuries that occurred at Amazon’s warehouses between 2016 and 2019, and found a worrying statistic with regard to the automated ones.
Here it was discovered that 50 percent more serious injuries occurred at automated warehouses than ones that were not automated at all.
One of the worst offending automated warehouses is located close to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, with BFI3 as it is referred to, recording 22 serious injuries for every 100 employees last year, according to the Reveal report.
The report also notes that the rate at BFI3 is five times that of the industry standard in the United States.
As for why injuries are more likely to occur at an automated facility, the Center for Investigative Reporting believes that it may have to do with unrealistic productivity and delivery expectations being placed on said facilities, compared to ones that are not automated.
Whether that is indeed the case remains to be seen, but a potentially larger issue that Reveal highlights in its report is that Amazon has knowingly misled the public as it pertains to automation and the safety of its workplace.
While the company has not issued a global response to the Reveal report, it has issued statements to individual publications like Engadget.
Amazon’s statement regarding the report is as follows:
“We strongly refute the claims that we’ve misled anyone. At Amazon, we are known for obsessing over customers—but we also obsess about our employees and their safety. Reveal is misinformed and guided by a sense of activism rather than journalism. The reporter is misinterpreting data, and the very internal documents he claims to have obtained ultimately illustrate one thing—we have a deep focus on the safety of our teams. We look at a variety of metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of our safety programs, but Reveal is misinformed regarding an OSHA safety metric that measures days away and restricted or transferred work (known as a DART rate) as something the reporter mistakenly calls a serious incident rate. The reality is that there is no such OSHA or industry ‘serious incident rate,’ and our DART rate is actually supportive of employees as it encourages someone with any type of injury, for example a small strain or sprain, to stay away from work until they’re better. 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. 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. We continue to see improvements in injury prevention and reduction through programs focused on improved ergonomics, delivering guided physical and wellness exercises, providing mechanical workstation assistance equipment, improving workstation setup and design, forklift telematics, and forklift guardrails to separate equipment from pedestrians—to name a few.”
This isn’t the first time that Amazon has been questioned for the way it treats employees as its fulfilment centres, and it likely won’t be the last.
With the Reveal report having only recently been published, it remains to be seen what further probing the company will come under in the coming weeks with regard to the safety of its work environment.