The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has issued a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the company violated safety laws and failed to keep workers in three warehouses safe. The regulator has also proposed $60,269 in penalties related to the violations – a drop in the bucket for a company that recorded over $127 billion in sales during the third quarter of 2022 alone but a relatively high penalty compared to many of those it faced from OSHA in the past.
According to a press release, the citation stems from inspections at three warehouses 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 low back injuries and other musculoskeletal conditions.”
Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, placed some of the blame on the pace Amazon is setting for its warehouse workers. “Every one of those inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety,” he said, noting that the system at the warehouses seemed focused on getting packages shipped 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 make up a disproportionately high share of all warehouse industry injuries in the United States. Out of stock, a 2019 report from Buzzfeed and ProPublica accused the company of trading security for speed in its delivery network, and that point was reiterated last year by SOC.
A statement from activist group Athena Coalition quotes Daniel Olayiwola, an Amazon warehouse worker in San Antonio: “OSHA’s findings are a reflection of the experiences of Amazon workers like me in warehouses across the country.” Olayiwola says workers have been “speaking out for years about the grueling work pace and exploitative policies that directly cause burnout, severe stress on our bodies and unsafe situations.”
Amazon, for its part, disagrees with OSHA’s latest allegations. “We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously, and we 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 security at our facilities.” Nantel also mentions an improvement in the company’s injury rate between 2019 and 2021 (a claim similar to one Amazon made in response to the 2022 SOC report) and says that “We look forward to sharing more during our appeal about the many safety innovations, the process improvements and investments we are making to further reduce damage.”
According to OSHA, Amazon received subpoenas for 14 recordkeeping violations last year for “failing to record injuries and illnesses, misclassifying injuries and illnesses, failing to record injuries and illnesses within the required time, and failing to provide timely injury and illness records to OSHA.” They came with proposed fines of about $29,008 and was part of the same investigation that the citations announced Wednesday.
The regulator spinning Amazon is rare but not uncommon. The company was sued in 2015 for not properly recording work-related injuries and illnesses, as well a handful of covid related quotes year 2020.
OSHA says it is also conducting investigations at three other Amazon warehouses in Aurora, Colorado, Nampa, Idaho, and Castleton, New York, after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York referred it to it last summer.