Amazon’s surge in pandemic business led to increase in injuries

A coalition of worker unions analyzed injury reports from Amazon Inc. warehouses and found that injuries among workers increased by 20% in the pandemic.

The Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of four labor unions, analyzed the injury data that Amazon submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and found that in 2021, the serious injury rate at Amazon warehouses was 6.8 per 100 workers — more than double the rate at non-Amazon warehouses at 3.3 injuries per 100 workers, according to a report released Tuesday.

While Amazon employed 33% of all U.S. warehouse workers in 2021, the company was responsible for 49% of all injuries in the industry last year, according to the analysis.

Amazon’s overall injury rate over the last five years has sat above 7.4 injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers in all but one year. The injury rate in 2021, 7.9 injuries per 100 workers, is the second-highest rate in the past five years and a sharp increase from 2020, the report states.

From 2017 to 2021, the only year that Amazon’s injury rates declined, 2020, was the same year that Amazon temporarily eased its work speed pressures as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic by suspending disciplinary action against workers for underperformance on productivity metrics, the report states.

The report highlights legislative changes aiming to curb injuries at high-volume warehouses. In September 2021, California passed A.B. 701, a bill regulating the use of production quotas in warehouses. Proponents of the bill pointed specifically to Amazon’s unsafe work speed as a key motivator for the legislation, according to the report, which adds that similar bills have recently been introduced in other states, including Minnesota and Washington, where Amazon is headquartered.

Acknowledging its problem, Amazon declared in April 2021 that it aims to cut injury rates by 50% by 2025, the report states.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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