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Amazon’s Warehouse Safety Practices Under Scrutiny by US Senate

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An examination of Amazon’s warehouse safety practices has been initiated by a US Senate committee. The probe was set into motion by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, who today penned a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. In the letter, Sanders highlighted concerns about health and safety in Amazon’s warehouses and asked for further details on how the company has addressed past safety issues. In a response issued to BuyTechBlog, Amazon countered Senator Sanders’ claims, inviting him to tour one of their facilities.

The lengthy letter from Sanders, spanning nearly 2,400 words, takes Amazon to task over reported incidents of injuries and unsafe conditions at their warehouses. The letter paints a picture of a company prioritizing profits over employee safety, leading to hazardous work environments, intense work pace, and inadequate medical care for Amazon workers. The senator contends that Amazon’s business decisions tend to prioritize profit over worker safety.

In his letter, Sanders contrasts Amazon’s history of safety issues with its impressive financial standing, including its $1.3 trillion market value, Jeff Bezos’ net worth of nearly $150 billion, and Jassy’s $289 million earnings over the past two years. He references data from the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of labor unions in North America, which suggests that Amazon’s safety record is uniquely problematic. Sanders cites figures indicating that Amazon’s rate of serious injuries significantly exceeded the average for non-Amazon warehouses in 2022, with Amazon workers sustaining more severe injuries than all other US warehouse workers combined, despite comprising just over one-third of all warehouse workers.

Reacting to the SOC data, Amazon expressed disagreement in an email to BuyTechBlog, suggesting that critics are misrepresenting the data. Amazon argues that they have made significant strides in improving safety since 2019, reducing recordable injuries by over 23% and lost time incidents by 53%. The company also referenced a report detailing their “meaningful and measurable progress” and highlighted a blog post about their efforts to combat heat-related issues.

In his letter, Sanders seeks an explanation from Jassy about why Amazon’s injury rates significantly exceed the average for the warehouse industry and why, despite assertions that robotic facilities enhance safety, data indicates these facilities have a 28% higher injury rate. He also asks Jassy to provide communications regarding the link between the speed of work and injury rates. Sanders has established a website inviting current and former Amazon workers to share their experiences, and he has requested Jassy’s response by July 5th.

This is not the first time Amazon’s safety practices have come under fire. Following a warehouse collapse in December 2021, Congress called Amazon’s response “disappointing” and criticized its “wholly inadequate safety culture”. Amazon subsequently revised its severe-weather strategy, but rejected the idea of building storm shelters in its warehouses. Federal prosecutors and the US Department of Labor also launched an investigation into Amazon’s workplace conditions last year, a move that saw OSHA inspections being conducted. In April, the SOC reported that Amazon was responsible for 53% of all severe warehouse injuries in the US, despite employing only around one-third of the country’s warehouse workforce.

Sanders criticizes Amazon’s approach to dealing with worker injuries, claiming that the company provides insufficient medical care and obscures injury reports from regulators and workers’ compensation programs. He argues that workers bear the brunt of the pain and disabilities, while Amazon continues to profit from their labor, a practice he insists must change.

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