Amazon Faces Senate Warehouse Safety Investigation

Amazon is facing an official investigation into its workplace safety practices within its warehouses and fulfilment centres.

The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) has launched an investigation into Amazon’s workplace safety practices, which is being lead by noted Amazon critic, US Senator Bernie Sanders (who also happens to be the chair of HELP).

Senator Sanders has previously criticised Amazon’s labour practices, high turnover and injury rates, as well as its medical treatment of injured workers.

Image credit: Amazon

Senate investigation

Senator Sanders sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, saying it was “initiating a HELP Committee investigation into the abysmal safety record in Amazon’s warehouses and the company’s treatment of workers who are injured in those warehouses.”

Sanders also published a website where Amazon workers can submit stories about their experiences at the company to help inform the Committee’s investigation.

“The company’s quest for profits at all costs has led to unsafe physical environments, intense pressure to work at unsustainable rates, and inadequate medical attention for tens of thousands of Amazon workers every year,” Sanders wrote in the letter.

“Amazon is one of the most valuable companies in the world worth $1.3 trillion and its founder, Jeff Bezos, is one of the richest men in the world worth nearly $150 billion,” Sanders wrote. “Amazon should be one of the safest places in America to work, not one of the most dangerous.

“If Amazon can afford to spend $6 billion on stock buybacks last year, it can afford to make sure that its warehouses are safe places to work,” Sanders wrote. “If Amazon can afford to pay you $289 million in total compensation over the past two years, it can afford to treat all of its workers with dignity and respect, not contempt.”

“The time has come for Amazon to stop willfully violating workplace safety laws with impunity and commit to changing its operations to protect the health and safety of its workers,” Sanders alleged.

Medical care

Sanders also alleged that the immense wealth amassed by the company and its executives is directly tied to the decisions to force workers into these unsafe environments.

“In its endless pursuit of profits, Amazon sacrifices workers’ bodies under the constant pressure of a surveillance system that enforces impossible rates,” Sanders alleged. “When faced with worker injuries, Amazon provides minimal medical care… This system forces workers to endure immeasurable long-term pain and disabilities while Amazon makes incredible profits from their labor.”

The letter stated that those decisions also contribute to the company’s turnover rate, which has regularly been as high as 150 percent per year.

Sanders is demanding that Amazon supply HELP with information about the high injury and turnover rates at Amazon’s warehouses, the connection between the extremely fast pace of work demanded of Amazon’s workers and these injury rates, and the inadequate medical care provided at Amazon’s on-site medical clinics.

Sanders alleged that Amazon’s serious injury rate is double the warehousing industry’s average.

He also alleged that the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state regulators have provided Amazon with measures it could adopt to comply with workplace safety laws and make its warehouses safer.

Amazon has chosen to disregard the vast majority of those recommendations, Sanders alleged.

Amazon response

However Steve Kelly, an Amazon spokesperson, told CNBC in a statement that the company strongly disagrees with Sanders’ claims in the letter.

Separately, the company said Sanders has been invited to tour one of Amazon’s warehouses.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has until 5 July to respond to the inquiry.

Safety questions

Amazon has faced number of safety concerns in the past few years.

Indeed both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the US Attorney’s Office are said to be investigating conditions at several warehouses, while the US Department of Justice is also examining whether Amazon underreports injuries.

In May 2022 a report by the Strategic Organising Centre (SOC), which is an organisation made up of four trade unions, alleged that nearly one in five Amazon delivery drivers suffered injuries in 2021 – an increase from the year before.

According to the report, Amazon delivery drivers commonly suffer injuries from trips, slips and falls, strains, dog bites, vehicle accidents and striking an object.

Image credit: Amazon

In April 2021 Amazon apologised to a US politician for denying that its workers are at times forced to pee in public bottles.

At first Amazon had denied the claims, but after journalists published evidence of its delivery drivers having to urinate in bottles, it apologised.

Tornado deaths

In December 2021 a tornado with estimated wind speeds of over 155mph smashed into an Amazon warehouse, known as DLI4, in Edwardsville, Illinois.

The impact was so severe it killed six people, most of whom were contracted Amazon delivery drivers who were sheltering in a bathroom in an area of the building that was impacted by the storm.

Amazon was cleared by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over the tornado in April 2022, but the e-commerce giant is facing a separate lawsuit from the parents of one of those killed.

And in February 2021 Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging the firm carried out ‘disregard for health and safety requirements’ and retaliation against employees who raised alarms during the initial Covid-19 outbreak.

In October 2022 New York state’s attorney general agreed to halt the lawsuit against Amazon over alleged failures to protect workers during pandemic.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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