During the pandemic, Americans have become even more reliant on online shopping, which Amazon dominates. But according to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal News, the company’s promise of a large inventory, low prices, and fast shipping comes with an increased risk of injury to Amazon workers rushing to fulfill orders in its warehouses.
Injuries of Amazon Workers Frequent
Last year, Reveal and PBS NewsHour published an investigation about workplace safety at Amazon fulfillment centers across the United States. They uncovered Amazon workers exposed to a gas leak in a Southern California warehouse, and an Indiana man who was crushed to death by a forklift. That reporting led to sources giving Reveal documents that had not been made public before, including four years of weekly injury numbers for more than 150 Amazon fulfillment centers nationwide, along with hundreds of pages of the company’s internal safety memos.
These documents provide a look at how many workers have been injured and how Amazon is responding. According to the company’s records, last year it had more than 14,000 serious injuries, a designation for injuries that prevent Amazon workers from doing their regular jobs. The rate of these injuries is almost twice the industry average.
Safety Record Reportedly Getting Worse
Amazon asserts that its warehouses are safe and getting better. In February, an Amazon executive wrote to 15 senators that safety is the company’s “number one priority” and that its “safety culture is built on a philosophy of continuous improvement.”
Nevertheless, Amazon’s safety record has reportedly been getting worse, with records showing that its injury rate has increased every single year between 2016 and 2019. The recently obtained documents suggest that Amazon knowingly misled the public about safety issues at its fulfillment centers.
For example, Amazon claims that robots introduced at many warehouses help improve safety. But the company’s own records do not back that up. The rate of serious injuries at the most common type of fulfillment center was over 50 percent higher at robotic warehouses, with Amazon workers and former safety managers claiming that robots increase the speed of production, so employees have to go faster. This can result in repetitive stress injuries and safety shortcuts that lead to accidents.
Amazon has also asserted that injury rates do not go up during its peak shopping times, Prime Day and the holidays. Last year, Amazon told Reveal that the rate of injury has historically decreased or been stable during these two times. Amazon’s own records suggest that statement is false. In fact, injury rates have spiked during the weeks of Cyber Monday and Prime Day.
Amazon Policy Impacting Worker Care
Finally, in a letter sent to lawmakers this year, Amazon said that its injury rates were high because of its aggressive stance on recording injuries, no matter how small.
Nevertheless, interviews and internal memos suggest that Amazon has tried to lower injury rates by controlling the medical care that injured Amazon workers receive at several warehouses. At one Colorado fulfillment center, Amazon attributed its high injury rates to medical providers who gave injured workers treatment that required the company to record them for OSHA. To combat this, Amazon terminated its use of one occupational clinic and switched to another.
An anonymous medical provider who used to work for Colorado’s Advanced Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine, which Amazon switched to last year, said that “It was more or less understood that, if too many of these injuries were being recordable, that it would put the contract with that company at risk.”
Amazon’s own injury numbers show that, once the company changed clinics, injury rates at the warehouse went down.
According to the provider, “Amazon felt different. You know, when an Amazon patient would come in, I would feel a little more burdened, maybe a little more anxious about what sort of care I would want to provide, but maybe would think twice about providing.”
He added that “We were encouraged to not put any of Amazon’s patients on work leave for their first visit.”
He also criticized some of the language currently on the clinic’s website, which states that “When the injury can be cared for without becoming OSHA recordable, it’s good for both the employer and the injured employee.”
The provider asserted that “The bottom line is, if a patient requires a certain level of care, then that’s the care that they should receive, and whether or not that claim is recordable should be an afterthought.”
The owner of Advanced, Tony Euser, claimed that there “was never an under-the-table policy” at the clinic, though after this year, Advanced would stop providing workers’ compensation services to companies, including Amazon.
“We have actually determined that this whole juggling process with companies isn’t worth it,” said Euser. “It’s just too much hassle factor of trying to balance between employees and employers. And it’s not worth it.”
OSHA Investigation Suggests Overuse of In-House EMTs
While Amazon sends some injured employees to outside clinics, other Amazon workers have a hard time even getting that level of care. One former medical officer for OSHA, Kathleen Fagan, investigated Amazon for a number of years and found that it was using in-house EMTs to give employees improper medical treatment.
“Amazon was trying to prevent workers from seeing a doctor outside,” said Fagan. “We saw evidence in the medical records of EMTs or supervisors discouraging their workers from seeking medical care.”
This practice is allegedly having a negative impact on worker health. Fagan cited one instance in which an employee was moving a pallet when dust got in her eye. The EMTs flushed her eye out and sent her back to work. A few days later, she went to see an eye doctor, who needed to remove an embedded wood chip from the eye.
Lawmakers Express Doubts About Amazon Safety Claims
In response to the investigation, Amazon sent out a general written statement, saying that “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our teams. So far, in 2020, we have committed over $1 billion in new investments in safety measures.”
Amazon spokespeople also said that it was misleading to judge their workplace safety based on the number of injuries: “We strongly refute the claims that we have misled anyone. We obsess about our employees and their safety.”
But Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, whose district houses Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, said “I don’t know that the information I’m getting from Amazon is accurate, because, mostly, Amazon denies that anything is happening, and says that there is a vast network of people who are simply reporting on things to make them look bad. I just don’t believe that.”
The company’s stock has surged more than 60 percent this year. Last month, Amazon said it is recruiting another 100,000 employees to keep up with demand during the pandemic.
While it is uncertain if the increase in online shopping because of COVID-19 has affected the company’s injury numbers, Amazon workers are now facing the season that has had some of the highest spikes in injuries, with Prime Day this month and the peak holiday shopping period coming soon.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Serving Illinois
Workers’ compensation claimants face a number of obstacles when trying to get the benefits they are owed under the law, particularly when dealing with multi-billion-dollar corporations like Amazon. To help overcome these obstacles, consider seeking out the assistance of the workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the leading Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firms in Illinois. For over four decades, our dedicated workers’ compensation lawyers have been serving the needs of injured employees in practically every field. GWC has the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation of success necessary to get you and your family the justice you deserve.
If you have been injured on the job, contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation with an attorney. You can call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative.