The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced Wednesday that it was hitting Amazon with a series of fines after investigating the online retailer’s workplace safety practices at three warehouses in Florida, Illinois and New York.
The agency found Amazon employees were at a “high risk” of lower-back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, which officials attributed to the fast work pace in Amazon facilities. Workers at a warehouse in Florida were also in danger of being struck by heavy products that weighed more than 50 pounds, officials said.
In a letter warning Amazon of certain hazards, the agency noted that several workers had been injured at the Florida facility, including one who was hit in the face with a 61-pound piece of furniture and another whose hand was smashed by a bedframe.
“Amazon has continued to ignore health and safety standards.”
Doug Parker, the head of OSHA, said on a call with reporters Wednesday that the e-commerce company had developed “impressive systems” to get customers their orders as fast as possible but had “failed to show the same level of commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its workers.”
“Unfortunately, Amazon has continued to ignore health and safety standards,” he said.
Amazon said it disputes the citations and intends to appeal them. “The government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement.
“[T]he vast majority of our employees tell us they feel our workplace is safe,” Nantel said. “We look forward to sharing more during our appeal about the numerous safety innovations, process improvements, and investments we’re making to further reduce injuries.”
Workplace safety penalties by statute are notoriously small, and the fines levied against Amazon amount to just $60,269. Officials did not deem Amazon’s violations to be “repeat” or “willful,” which would have come with a higher price tag. Fines can be litigated for years and are often negotiated downward in the process.
OSHA has no specific safety standard for ergonomics, so the agency cited Amazon under what’s known as the “general duty” clause. That catch-all clause says that employers have a general obligation to keep their workers safe from harm. OSHA often uses it when investigators believe an employer has exposed workers to repetitive-motion injuries due to lots of lifting, bending and pulling.
OSHA uses a measure known as DART – “days away, restricted or transferred” – to reflect the number of incidents resulting in someone missing work. Parker said the DART rate in Amazon facilities in 2021 was near twice the rate for the general warehousing industry: 9.0, compared to 4.7. He said the DART rate at the Florida facility OSHA recently inspected was 15.0, or more than three times the rate of the industry in general.
The retailer’s warehouses have drawn intense scrutiny from regulators and politicians recently. California and New York recently passed laws aimed at cracking down on the expected productivity rates in its facilities, saying they lead to injury.
Amazon’s Nantel said the company “take[s] the safety and health of our employees very seriously.” In 2021, Amazon announced that it partnered with the non-profit National Safety Council to reduce musculoskeletal injuries.
The recent OSHA inspections began with a referral from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating the safety standards and pace of work at Amazon. In December, OSHA cited Amazon for failing to record injuries at its warehouses properly.
The company was fined $29,008 for the violations. However, it said it plans to appeal those as well.