Goods bought from online retailer Amazon.com reach every corner of our country. But they originate in a few warehouses, one of which happens to be located here in Pennsylvania. Some workers at Amazon’s warehouses have complained about difficult workings conditions there. They report having to meet demanding production goals while working in stifling heat during the warmer portions of the year.
Amazon’s business model requires a high level of worker efficiency. Maximum profits are achieved when workers retrieve items quickly and send them to their appropriate destinations. But an unrelenting pace can lead to work-related injuries.
For its part, Amazon points to data suggesting that it is a safe place to work. Amazon tracks workplace accidents and injuries using a measurement called the “recordable incidence rate,” which was established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Amazon notes that its warehouses have a lower incidence rate than that observed in department stores. In addition, Amazon has received a relatively small number of safety violations fines compared to other companies that operate warehouses.
But statements from current and former employees suggest that those numbers may provide an incomplete picture of what goes on at the warehouses. When a worker is injured, certain treatments have to be reported to OSHA. Some workers say that Amazon often preferred treatments that would not require a report and would suggest that doctors treat injured workers accordingly.
Some warehouse employees also stated that the high pace of work continued even when summer temperatures inside the warehouses exceeded 100 degrees. One worker believes he was fired for bringing up the subject with superiors. Amazon has taken steps to mitigate heat-related illness, however. The company has installed air conditioning at some of its warehouses.
Amazon faced a lawsuit over how it chose to deal with workers’ injuries. The company settled the suit last summer. Workers are protected by federal and state laws and may be able to receive compensation for injuries they suffer while on the job.
Source: The Seattle Times, “Amazon warehouse jobs push workers to physical limit,” Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher, April 3, 2012.