Working at an Amazon Warehouse Got Even More Dangerous in 2021

On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

More Amazon warehouse workers are getting seriously injured on the job than a year before and at twice the rate of non-Amazon warehouses, despite the company’s pledge to make Amazon “Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” according to a recent analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data by the Strategic Organizing Center.

“Amazon’s high-pressure operations keep resulting in worker injuries in unprecedented numbers, and the situation is worsening,” the report says. “The SOC’s analysis of Amazon’s injury data for 2021 finds that the company has not only failed to make any progress on improving its injury rates, but has performed substantially worse than in the previous year, raising significant questions about Amazon management’s commitment to preventing worker injuries.”

The report, a follow-up to a similar one released last year, was produced by the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of four of the country’s biggest labor unions. This year’s report found that workers at Amazon facilities “sustained more than 34,000 serious injuries on the job in 2021,” up from more than 24,000 injuries a year prior and a 20 percent increased injury rate over 2020. Nearly one half (49 percent) of all warehouse industry injuries in 2021 occured in an Amazon warehouse, despite employing just one-third of warehouse workers. The coalition’s 2020 findings were independently confirmed by the Washington Post

In a statement to Motherboard, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said, “We hired tens of thousands of additional people to help us meet the unforeseen demand from COVID-19 and people turning to Amazon to help them safely get products and supplies during the pandemic. Like other companies in the industry, we saw an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained so many new people—however, when you compare 2021 to 2019, our recordable injury rate declined more than 13% year over year. While we still have more work to do and won’t be satisfied until we are excellent when it comes to safety, we continue to make measurable improvements in reducing injuries and keeping employees safe, and appreciate the work from all of our employees and safety teams who are contributing to this effort.”

The report attributes the sharp rise in Amazon warehouse injuries to the implementation of pre-pandemic monitoring systems and production quotas, which has been suspended for much of 2020 due to the pandemic. 

Amazon has said in the past it hopes the use of more robots will improve worker safety, but the SOC found “Injury rates at Amazon’s robotic facilities have consistently been higher than at its non-robotic facilities in every year for which data is available.” The report characterizes this as “not a surprise” because robots “drive workers’ production speed higher in facilities with automation, making working conditions even more dangerous.”

Amazon reported a profit of $33.4 billion in 2021, an increase of 57 percent over its 2020 profits.

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