The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, issued a citation against Amazon, alleging the company violated safety laws and failed to keep workers safe at three warehouses. The regulator also proposed $60,269 in fines related to the violations — a drop in the bucket for a company that posted more than $127 billion in sales in the third quarter of 2022 alone, but a relatively high penalty compared to many of those with that have been encountered by OSHA before.
According to a press release, the citation stemmed from inspections at three warehouses located in Deltona, Florida, Waukegan, Illinois, and New Windsor, New York. OSHA says Amazon “exposed workers to ergonomic, impact hazards” at the site, putting them at “high risk of lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders.”
Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, placed some of the blame on the pace Amazon sets for its warehouse workers. “Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not for safety,” he said, noting that the system at the warehouses appeared to be geared toward shipping packages rather than worker safety.
It’s a criticism Amazon has faced for years, including from OSHA itself. Last year, the advocacy group The Strategic Organizing Center released a report saying Amazon workers account for a disproportionately high percentage of all injuries in the U.S. warehouse industry. Out of Stock 2019 Report Buzzfeed and ProPublica accused the company of trading safety for speed in its supply network, and this point was reiterated last year by SOC.
A statement from the activist group Athena Coalition quoted Daniel Olayiwola, an Amazon warehouse worker in San Antonio, as saying, “OSHA’s findings are a reflection of the experiences of Amazon workers like myself in warehouses across the country.” Olayiwola says workers “have been talking for years about the grueling work pace and exploitation policies that directly cause burnout, high stress on our bodies and dangerous situations’.
For its part, Amazon disagrees with OSHA’s latest accusations. “We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously and strongly disagree with these allegations and intend to appeal,” spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in a statement. “We have cooperated fully and the government’s allegations do not reflect the reality of safety at our sites.” Nantel also cited an improvement in the company’s injury rates between 2019 and 2021 (a claim similar to one made by Amazon in response to the 2022 SOC report) and says that “We look forward to sharing more during our appeal about the many safety innovations, process improvements and investments we are making to further reduce injuries.”
According to OSHA, last year Amazon received citations for 14 recordkeeping violations for “failing to record injuries and illnesses, misclassifying injuries and illnesses, failing to record injuries and illnesses within the required time frame, and failing to provide OSHA with timely injury and illness records . ” They came with proposed fines of about $29,008 and were part of the same investigation as the citations announced Wednesday.
Amazon’s regulator is rare, but not unheard of. The company received a citation in 2015 for not properly recording work-related injuries and illnesses, and a handful of covid-related citations in 2020.
OSHA says it is also conducting investigations at three other Amazon warehouses in Aurora, Colo., Nampa, Idaho, and Castleton, N.Y., after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York directed it to do so last summer.