Amazon workers are in a warehouse of pain, independent report finds

6.9 injuries per 100 employees? Try 69 percent taking time off for injuries, exhaustion, survey concludes

Amazon may have some serious explaining to do. A survey of workers at warehouses and other company facilities finds injury rates astronomically higher than those the online megastore has reported to government officials.

In contrast to the 6.9 injuries for every 100 workers that Amazon self-reported to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2022, 69 percent of Amazon warehouse employees had to take unpaid time off due to pain or exhaustion in the past month, and 34 percent have had to do so three or more times, according to research.

Additionally, 41 percent of employees report having been injured on the job at an Amazon warehouse, a figure that climbs to 51 percent for those who have worked there for three or more years. 

That data, and additional findings that contradict Amazon's own injury reporting, was sourced from 1,484 Amazon workers at 451 facilities across 42 states, and collected by a pair of researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED).

"We undertook this study because media reports and government agency investigations have raised serious questions about working conditions at Amazon warehouses," said Dr Beth Gutelius, research director at the CUED and co-author of the report.

In addition to the physical toll workers reported, 52 percent of those surveyed said they felt burned out by working at Amazon, and 41 percent reported always or most of the time feeling a sense of pressure to work faster. Reports of injuries and burnouts were higher among those feeling that pressure.

"The survey data indicate that how Amazon designs its processes – including extensive monitoring and the rapid pace of work – is contributing to a considerable physical and mental health toll, including injuries, burnout, and exhaustion," Gutelius said.

The report offers several possible explanations for why Amazon's self-reporting injury rates are different from what was found, like only 3 percent of workers saying they reported their injury to OSHA or a state agency, while 64 percent just reported it to Amazon.

"Some of these incidents will undoubtedly make their way into the injury data that Amazon provides to OSHA … but it seems plausible that a substantial portion could fall through the cracks and not be accounted for in the official figure," the report speculates.

A third of survey respondents also said they did not report their injuries at all, with reasons varying from a quarter of respondents expressing concern that they'd face negative consequences, 23 percent saying they didn't think they'd get help, and 9 percent not wanting to mar their team's safety record.

"The information we have does not support being able to say exactly how many of the injuries respondents report in our data should be counted under OSHA's guidelines," the report concludes of the discrepancy. "But the totality of the evidence we have been able to compile suggests that the reporting system is not capturing the full scope of injuries."

Amazon responds

"This is not a 'study' – it's a survey done on social media, by groups with an ulterior motive," Amazon spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel told The Register. "If anyone actually wants to know the facts, they can read the data that we publish each year and submit to OSHA."

Lynch Vogel also told us that injury rates at Amazon facilities have improved significantly in recent years, putting the company "slightly above average in some areas and slightly below the average in others."

Amazon also pointed a finger at the source of the study, claiming it was partially funded by activists and labor unions. Amazon also said that the survey didn't have enough controls to ensure respondents were actual Amazon employees.

Per the report, funding was provided by the Ford Foundation, National Employment Law Project, and Oxfam America. The contact for the report is a PR firm known as Justice Speaks, which describes itself as specializing "in refuting corporate propaganda, fighting advocacy battles to break up Big Tech, and supporting workers building power and unionizing their workplaces."

According to the survey report, data quality was ensured by the use of CAPTCHAs to filter out bots, and fake Amazon warehouse codes embedded in lists of actual Amazon facilities to filter out false respondents. Other indicators like "open-ended responses" were also taken as indication of fraud and were discarded, the report said.

Amazon argued that the survey misrepresented its work pacing policies, telling us that it didn't have fixed quotas, and that it allowed employees to take regularly scheduled and informal breaks as needed.

Of course, these policies don't account for a culture that discourages breaks. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they were able to take breaks when they needed to, but 44 percent also said they weren't. Nearly a quarter said their production standard/rate makes it consistently hard for them to take time to use the bathroom, while 31 percent said the same was true on occasion.

"Amazon workers received feedback about their performance from the technology … reinforcing the feeling that technology is being used as a mechanism of constant oversight and  means of compelling workers to move faster," the report claimed.

As for psychological care to help fight burnout and stress, Amazon told us that its employees have access to mental healthcare through an app called Twill, which offers "activities, meditations, and games that can help strengthen your mental health." Twill does not, it seems, offer therapy.

Amazon also disputed claims from the report that its in-house AmCare first aid clinics may be responsible for injury under-reporting. Per the report, 22 percent of Amazon employees said they were discouraged from seeking outside care, while 12 percent said AmCare delayed their treatment request or said they couldn't get treated. Amazon said claims that it uses AmCare to delay or discourage employees from seeking medical care are false.

The company also made a point of mentioning that it disagrees with a trio of OSHA safety violations issued in January for unsafe environments.

Amazon said it would welcome a visit from the study authors to its sites to see its safety programs for themselves. We tried contacting them as well, but haven't heard back. ®

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