Amazon’s warehouses with robots, which the company has claimed would help reduce worker injuries, actually have higher injury rates than warehouses without automation, according to internal Amazon records obtained by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. The stunning fact comes as part of a broader report investigating rising injury rates at Amazon warehouses across the country.
Amazon’s warehouse robots are apparently so efficient that quotas have increased substantially, requiring workers to do repetitive motions over long shifts that can eventually lead to injuries. For example, workers who grab and scan items had their quotas increase from about 100 items an hour to 400 items an hour in the automated warehouses, according to the report. The rise in injury rates suggests automation could actually be creating a more dangerous environment for the workers, despite hopes that robots would take on the most dangerous tasks.
Amazon piloted specific measures recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to help reduce injury risk, such as an extra rest break or rotating workers to other jobs during the day. But the measures have not been widely implemented, and Reveal’s documents indicate that injury rates have continued to rise.
Amazon, in a statement to Reveal, said that “the use of robotics, automation and technology in our fulfillment centers is enhancing our workplace, making jobs safer and more efficient.”
The report shows unusually high rates of injury across the board, even compared with equivalent warehouses run by other companies. Amazon warehouses counted 14,000 serious injuries in 2019 (meaning injuries that require days off or job restrictions), and “the overall rate of 7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees was 33% higher than in 2016 and nearly double the most recent industry standard,” according to the report.
And injury rates spiked during Amazon’s Prime Day and Cyber Monday sales extravaganzas, with the weeks surrounding them having “the highest rate of serious injuries for all of 2019,” Reveal reported.
Reveal has also put together a site where you can browse the injury rates of more than 150 Amazon warehouses from 2016 through 2019, pulled from internal Amazon records. Two sites — one in DuPont, WA and one in Eastvale, CA — reported more than 16 serious injuries per 100 workers in 2019, quadruple the industry average from 2018.
Reveal’s report follows an investigation from November claiming that Amazon attempted to dodge workplace safety regulators for years. And Amazon’s warehouse safety practices have come under particular scrutiny this year as workers have continued to staff the warehouses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight known workers have died from COVID-19, and Amazon has declined to say how many warehouse workers have contracted or died from the disease.
Amazon has not responded to an inquiry from The Verge about the claims raised in Reveal’s article.