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

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 …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How does this stack up to other logistics jobs?

    In a dim and distant past consultancy job I was working in an office attached to a warehousing operation. Most of the staff there were treated as criminals; subject to metal detection and body searches on the way in and out. Those jobs also happened to have high injury rates, and crap pay. And, from the looks of some of them, yes, some probably were criminals, or ex-criminals.

    Sounds a lot like Amazon, then. Which it wasn't.

    There is part of me which says why the hell would anyone choose to work for such an outfit under dreadful conditions; but then I am smugly reminded that I was amongst the ones that bothered to work in school to get somewhere.

    1. techcafe

      smug, indeed. i'd also add condescending and judgy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, I was asking for it with the above. Capitalism in action, I'm afraid, with respect to meritocracy and pay. Sure there are anomalies, but in general those that "can", do. My grumble is those that "could" but chose to dick around instead to the detriment of all can't really complain about ending up in the dirty jobs no-body else wants to do.

        Everyone has the right to a safe workplace, no matter the background. Part of the point of the message was that most of the dirty end of logistics jobs are not overly safe jobs to do. The back-office staff behind them role, whether they know it or not, (policies/procedures/time pressures, etc.) is to put the right tools and systems in place to manage that risk. Clearly Amazon, aren't, nor were the org I was consulting for at the time.

        Some orgs have improved. Amazon, as far as I can tell, are chasing profit at any cost and not listening to feedback.

        There are more industrial accidents in Agriculture than in any other sector, but do you see farming practises improving? For most people it's out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Unless you're on the sharp end.

        You can say the same for troopers on the ground being issued sub-standard equipment, or shortfalls in body armour, etc. Very much NOT out of sight, but we know it's still far from as good as can be.

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      It's important to understand that not everyone has the privilege of choice when it comes to employment. Many individuals, due to socio-economic circumstances, lack of resources, or even familial pressures, end up in roles that might not seem ideal to others. Growing up in poverty or challenging environments often limits one's perspective on what's possible. For some, a warehouse job, even with its challenges, may feel like a step up from previous experiences or a necessary means to provide for their families. I've seen first hand how distant family members were discouraged from pursuing higher education because they were expected to contribute financially from a young age. It's not about not 'bothering' to work in school but rather navigating a complex web of responsibilities and societal expectations.

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge
        Facepalm

        This explains why scamazon have just started running TV ads about how wonderful they are as an employer

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Maybe those family values demanding contributions rather than looking at the individuals ambitions are what needed addressing? Certain cultural backgrounds are more prone to this than others.

        I've worked my share of shit jobs to pay the rent. If nothing else, they were strong motivation to make sure I could get into something better. Dirty end of a call centre was a ticket through the door of a FTSE outfit that I could work up the ranks of. No illusions about entry into the workforce at a high level straight out of a degree. It's an illusion a lot of uni students seem to have, and with the cost of fees as they are I'd recommend a higher apprenticeship or simliar a hundred times over chasing certificates.

        Do the shit jobs need doing? Some of them, yeah. Make the conditions right and by rights they should pay very well. I know guys who spend 60-hours a week at the bottom of muddy trenches welding; not at all pleasant. But they are the best paid folks on any of our sites by far.

    3. KarMann Silver badge
      Devil

      Oh, hello there, Mr. Just-World-Fallacy, nice to see you again.

      Not.

    4. trevorde Silver badge

      Jeff Bezos, is that you?

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        He is probably polishing his rocket...

        1. BebopWeBop
          Joke

          I thought he had a new partner?

    5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      What a loverly comment.

      Strangely I've also worked somewhere like that... indeed the searches going in and out were a PITA, the big game being seeing what we could get out( and its a lot if you have rent-a-moron guards)

      But moving over to the important point

      Our operators are the first to admit they dont have the educational smarts to do what I do or any job that needs a degree of education, but give them guages and show them howto run the machines they can stand there for 8 hrs doing a better job than I or the other skilled staff could(mainly because we'd get bored stupid)

      But what did I do with my school education? actually left at 16 for exactly the social-economic reasons someone else listed that mom and dad could'nt afford to have us kids in further education, so its off to work we go.

      So someo of us who've worked the min wage stuff dont do so out of choice , we do/did it for the money it pays as having a roof over us/food on the table beats trying to cook Jean Bacon's Concurrent systems for dinner(its bloody hard enough to digest raw )

    6. DS999 Silver badge

      I wonder how it stacks up against construction

      69% sounds like a lot but if you are lifting stuff all day long you're gonna have some strain injuries eventually. I know people who worked construction and those guys will be carrying plywood sheets or bundles of 2x4s around or whatever all the time. They said it wasn't so bad in their 20s but once they hit their 30s they were pretty much always nursing multiple small injuries and occasional larger ones from strain from repetitive lifting, dropping something on their their foot, bumping shoulder against something, what have you.

    7. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      Manual Labor Conditions

      I have worked a some manual labor jobs in my life. Most of them treated the workers well. One provided pizza for lunch every day, and lots of chilled bottled water. Another provided Gatorade any time the temperature got to 90F or above. All of the (good) ones religiously-enforced workers taking their breaks. One not-so-good one did not provide any water.

      But, even with all those experiences, I'd be afraid to work for Amazon.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Manual Labor Conditions

        I wonder whether Amazon is really all that much worse than the others. You hear a lot about Amazon, but they have the most employees doing manual labor so it stands to reason you would hear about them all the time.

        Are the people in Walmart loading docks or UPS's shipping center treated significantly better than Amazon employees?

        Not defending them, and I have no idea, but "abused Amazon distribution center employee" might be sort of a media pile on because it was in the news so everything about it makes the news now, sort of like how "Foxconn iPhone manufacturing workers committing suicide" was a thing five or six years ago. As with Amazon there was such a large number of employees that once it got into media consciousness there was always going to be more news for them to report and keep the story alive.

        1. sabroni Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Not defending them

          Yes you are.

        2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
          Devil

          Statistics

          That's (one) reason why we use statistics: so we can reasonably-compare different-sized situations. We look at things such as, "X reportable injuries per worker-hour," and, "U worker deaths per number of workers, per year," etc.

          One bug-bear here is that extremely-small sample sizes tend to magnify the apparent injury/death rates.

          A second bug-bear is that companies are economically-incentivized to within-the-company carefully-redefine "reportable injury," as it affects their insurance rates, as well as the liklihood of a government investigation. (Hyperbole: "A broken leg is not a reportable injury! Here--take four aspirin, then go walk it off.")

          A third bug-bear is that companies release carefully-worded statistics to make themselves look better than they are: "This last year, in our class 3 warehouse facilities, we had Y reportable injuries per worker." ("Class 3 warehouse facilities" == "offices attached to warehouses".)

          (Icon for, "Statistics can be useful, but the devil is in the details.")

          1. SVD_NL Bronze badge

            Re: Statistics

            Yup, as i mentioned in another post, it seems about 90% of respondends were "Tier 1 warehouse associates" (all the way at the bottom of the food chain). and the report itself says it's not apples-to-apples either, because there is a difference between perceived injuries and reportable injuries. This is why it is important to read the full report.

            Reading the report, the injury rates are a good headline, but the most worrying part is the pressure on employees not to report, and not to seek medical attention other than in-house amcare.

            Amazon is disregarding the results and is accusing university researchers of fraud just to further push their "everything is fine, OSHA and unions are evil" propaganda.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Manual Labor Conditions

          They're a easy target because so many work for them, and because Bezos $$$ are worth investigating.

          As I noted in the overly smug comment right at the top, how do they stack up to the others? My experience of working along such environments is that just about all warehousing operations are far from being safe places to work.

        4. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Manual Labor Conditions

          "Are the people in Walmart loading docks or UPS's shipping center treated significantly better than Amazon employees?"

          Well, the UPS workers in the US are union and at least the drivers just sewed up an insane pay rise. I used to see advertisements for holiday workers at the UPS sorting centers when I'd drop off packages, but after paying the initiation fee to the union and the dues out of each check for middle of the night work, it wasn't worth it.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ...amongst the ones that bothered to work in school to get somewhere. You seem to ignore the possibility of being a diligent student but not having a mental capacity to fulfill certain mentally complex jobs - probably including the kind of job you have. A lot of jobs which were not service/warehouse jobs disappeared over the past few decades, and now there is Amazon. Some of the workers joining Amazon are in there 50 and 60's, and therefore they are prone to injury if they are worked like someone in their 20 or 30's.

      Almost all physical jobs will lead to injuries for the 50 and 60 year old crowd. Kudos to them for trying, but they will fired as soon as they are hobbled.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You seem to ignore the possibility of being a diligent student but not having a mental capacity to fulfill certain mentally complex jobs

        Can I just point out that you appear to be ignoring the possibility that there may only be a certain number of higher paid jobs, which are largely filled?

        Your attitude is also quite illustrative of a serious problem; You have mentally classified people doing what you consider as lesser jobs as "not having a mental capacity to fulfil certain mentally complex jobs". I would suggest that your sense of self superiority would prevent you from considering employing somebody who didn't get a "mentally complex job" out of school/uni [even if there weren't any] leading to them ending up in manual labour. Once they have then socialised with other plebeians they might have absorbed socially unacceptable attitudes, like not considering all the people they have met as being "mentally deficient" and of course having such views and experiences of course makes them unemployable in the company of such people such as yourself.

        Employing or training these people is of course completely beyond the pale; the best thing to do is decry their lack of experience and hire in somebody trained abroad who has (or claims to have) the requisite experience demanded to keep those you consider "mentally deficient" in their rightful place.

        Ok, i'm overdoing that a bit. But actually, not by much. The "right sort of people" can of course afford to work for nothing as an intern to get the experience to go with their qualifications. The "wrong sort of people" (ie; people who don't have rich parents) cannot afford to do so, and so can be prevented from getting better jobs than manual work even if they do get better qualifications than the young sprig of the aristocracy who coasted through school without paying much attention. After all; they know they didn't need to. Mummy and Daddy would make sure they were ok.

        If you still don't see the problem, replace "mentally deficient" with "Jew", "Black" or other group it's no longer seen as being fine to oppress.

        1. tiggity Silver badge

          When I was a student, in the Summer break (and often over Xmas / new year) I would do "manual labour" jobs to get some extra cash.

          Dull, repetitive (as I was young & strong when doing them did not have any injury hassles, but could imagine I would struggle to avoid various strains if I tried at my current age!)

          .. The dull, repetitive, non mentally challenging part had one big plus point, finished the day feeling mentally refreshed. The intellectually demanding jobs I have had since graduating have one big downside, being mentally "spent" at the end of the day (with downside of being more likely to watch "mindless" TV than do something more mentally demanding like read a "challenging" book to unwind)

          .. Getting older, the mental "burnout", by the end of the workday, increasingly becomes an issue, so would be quite happy with a "mindless" manual job (but unfortunately not with the pay, as have dependent household to support). So could see how a warehouse job may have its attractions.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            "Getting older, the mental "burnout", by the end of the workday, increasingly becomes an issue, so would be quite happy with a "mindless" manual job (but unfortunately not with the pay, as have dependent household to support). So could see how a warehouse job may have its attractions."

            The last job where I was working for somebody else, I learned how to leave work at work. It had to be self-taught since nobody anywhere even mentions signing out from your job at the end of the day. The upside was that I was working at a small aerospace company and I was a one person department (avionics). There was nobody in the organization that could step in and take over my job so I didn't worried about getting sacked. That's not to say I wasn't passionate about what I did, but only that I didn't have to keep working after hours to make sure I kept my job.

            I've alway had lots of outside interests. Some of them have been related to what I did/do for a living and some don't. I could nearly always get mentally engaged in something after work even if it was just getting through a few more chapters of a new book I was finding a good read. Getting some outside help could be a good move. Just like engaging a trainer to stay in good physical condition, mental training could be just as good.

    9. John H Woods Silver badge

      "amongst the ones that bothered to work in school"

      I'm at least as well-educated, formally, as you, but it never made me forget that people have to do these jobs for society to function.

    10. martinusher Silver badge

      There is a school of thought that suggests that treating employees like criminals tends to make them behave like criminals. Its ass backwards to the management mindset but its been shown in retail by several rouge companies that paying a decent wage, providing health care and treating employees as actual team members rather than valued cliches tends to result in reduced shrinkage, a better attitude towards customers and generally enhanced productivity.

  2. ChoHag Silver badge

    <Reporter> Amazon is lying and downplaying how much they're screwing people.

    <Amazon> The report isn't really real if you want to know how much we're really screwing people look at our official statement of screwage. You know it's not a lie because it's official.

  3. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    One of the reasons

    Amazon is my very, very, last resort for anything. I'd rather spend more if I can get things elsewhere. Indeed, I might even decide I don't want the thing that badly.

    1. ITMA Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: One of the reasons

      Likewise.

      It is not just because of their reputation for how they treat warehouse workers - who are an invaluable part of the supply chain I should add - but also because of the way Amazon as an organisation "slopey shoulder" responsibility for anything which goes wrong with a purchase. The old retort of:

      "We are just the marketplace, not the seller. That rechargeable vacuum we took your money for, shipped to you from our warehouse which blew up in your hand - nothing to do with us mate".

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: One of the reasons

      "Amazon is my very, very, last resort for anything. I'd rather spend more if I can get things elsewhere."

      I don't even use them as a last resort. My local hardware store can order all sorts of stuff (about 8 phone book sized catalogs if you remember phone books) and have it at the store in a few days. The owner of the local corner shop can find all sorts of things from the wholesalers he visits in the big city every week. He also keeps a list on his phone for what his regulars ask for. I like to buy local as much as possible. I want to ensure that those shops will be around and stocked when TSHTF. I usually need stuff at the last minute for a project I'm working on and even next day isn't good enough. I'm building some storage racks right now and may need some more sheet metal screws, maybe not. With the hardware store 2 blocks away, I'll have one rack finished off tomorrow whether I need to buy screws or not. I might even have the other one done if I have enough time whether it needs parts or not. If I relied on Amazon, it would be next weekend if any parts needed to be ordered and I'd have no idea if they actually will show up and what the quality looks like.

  4. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    Executive Calculations

    "If we report these injuries, we will be fined. If we lie-by-omission and do not report these injuries, we may have to pay a fine, which we will pay off with cheaper future pounds."

  5. Winkypop Silver badge

    Easy enough to test

    Get all the bosses and corporate office staff to work regular floor shifts for at least a month.

    Report back.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Easy enough to test

      "Get all the bosses and corporate office staff to work regular floor shifts for at least a month."

      The warehouses are in cheap areas to place warehouses (and where free tax abatements are handed out) and the bosses are in offices near the beach.

  6. NanoMeter

    Amazon warehouses are sweatshops

    in the western world.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Amazon warehouses are sweatshops

      If you watch their adverts, you'd think you were working in Shangrila!

      I'm currently being bombarded with 2 ads, one of a young woman who is being encouraged by Amazon to improve herself and become a manager and they are paying for her training and the other is a new father, who, thanks to the Amazon Family Bonus, could afford to take a 3rd month off after his daughter was born to help is wife.

  7. Felonmarmer

    I flipped burgers for a summer between school and university, so did my brother.

    I worked for British Rails in-house burger chain, Casey Jones. I didn't join the union as I was only going to be there for 3 months or so, but the job still benefited from union influence - reasonable pay, free food and good working conditions (for burger flipping).

    My brother joined the cult that is McDonalds. Half the pay I got, begging the manager for "courtesy cups" of drink these were about half the size of the smallest cup they sell and they didn't expect you to need more than 2 per shift regardless of heat. Anyone who said anything negative was fired on the spot.

    It's the American way. Later in my career my British company was acquired by an American one. They thought our Staff Council, which is what we called the Staff Reps required by law was some kind of commie plot. They were shocked they couldn't just sack anyone they wanted without notice. One global team had members in New York, during a round of redundancy they were just moved to zero hours contracts and not given any work. They couldn't even get a new job without quitting and forbidden from working for another company while contracted to their existing one, which of course meant that they were leaving voluntarily and not being made redundant in the eyes of American law.

    Amazon and others are exporting their cultish working practices to the rest of the world, only moving the absolute minimum they need to to get away with them in other countries.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Amazon and others are exporting their cultish working practices to the rest of the world, only moving the absolute minimum they need to to get away with them in other countries."

      That's fine. Those are the rules. If people think the rules are on the thin side, they need to contact their government representative and see if any attention will be paid to increasing those minimums. Good luck with that. The big companies make campaign contributions and the proles just complain that it's so unfair. It's the same argument as people saying the big companies aren't paying their "fair share" of taxes. Yes, they are or they'd be fined. If they paid more than required, they'd be fined as well for not acting responsibly for their shareholders to whom they are accountable.

  8. sabroni Silver badge
    Happy

    This is so terrible

    I might feel a little bit bad when my prime subscription comes up.

    But free next day delivery, right??

  9. SVD_NL Bronze badge

    Some context

    So for everyone too lazy to read the report (which you should because it is extremely interesting! this post leaves out a lot of details!), here is the TL;DR:

    (method stuff is taken from page 11)

    Amazon's response is (as expected) out-of-context bs. Yes, they reached the workers through social media campaigns, but targeted it at people who had listed amazon as employer on facebook, and they used geofencing for location too. The method has been established in prior research as being a viable way to reach a wide sample of a specific company. This is not just sending around a survey link on facebook...

    In this survey, they used a few ways to weed out false responses:

    1. captchas

    2. asking for an alphanumeric warehouse code, and including a false value in the question prompt.

    3. using advanced data analytics, to identify patterns of fraud (this is a bit vague but it's a tl;dr, think for example geographic location not matching a warehouse, or a cluster of similar responses that could indicate fraud).

    4. They weighted the survey results by weighing the diversity characteristics (gender, ethnicity, etc.) of their survey with the published metrics amazon provided.

    The survey was approved by the UIC Institutional review board.

    And it is true this research was funded by an organisation with a specific agenda, but research can never be discarded because of that simple fact. They are essentially saying this is a fraudulent, non-scientific report. That's a very big claim to make towards university researchers, and they really don't have sufficient evidence to back that up.

    Now, there are some caveats:

    1. The percentage is inflated, because 90% of filtered respondents were "Warehouse Associate (Tier 1)", which i believe is lowest in the pecking order. They are going to have a higher injury rate than manglement.

    2. You're more likely to respond to a survey like this if you have been injured.

    3. Respondents who have been injured are probably more likely to make their employer seem a bit worse, especially after unpaid time off

    4. This is a measure the worker's own measure of injury, i.e. not returning home in the same state they got to work at. This will not match OSHA numbers either. (this is mentioned in the report)

    The report lists a lot of caveats too, most are mentioned in this article. (p.17-18)

    I think it perfectly shows how amazon works as a company. Most other companies would at least respond with "We are very alarmed, and we will review this report and conduct our own research", which they will of course never do and hope people forget about it. No, Amazon immediately discredits the research and continues to push it's "OSHA and Unions are evil" propaganda. Disgusting.

    Yes, this report inflates some numbers due to how participants are selected, and these injury rates are not apples to apples, but they acknowledge this personally, and they simply ignore disturbing facts like people being scared of reporting their injuries, and their Amcare facilities discouraging people from seeking medical attention (to be fair, people seem to be generally happy about the care they receive there).

    They use some small issues with the research, blow them out of proportion, and use it as a strawman to disregard this research.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It won't matter soon enough.

    Amazon will eventually lay off the majority of its warehouse staff as they get replaced by robotics right to the point of despatch from the warehouse. The problem will solve itself.

    1. SVD_NL Bronze badge

      Re: It won't matter soon enough.

      I agree with you, but that doesn't mean the problem is solved. The injuries sustained won't be cured automatically once people are laid off (if that was the case, Amazon would be the good guy for firing injured people not making their quotas).

      (Tens of?) thousands of Amazon employees will have injuries for life, or will later be more likely to sustain injuries because of the poor working conditions, and Amazon is taking no responsibility.

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: It won't matter soon enough.

        Wooossshhhhh

  11. jmch Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Understandable error....

    "6.9 injuries for every 100 workers that Amazon self-reported"

    " 69 percent of Amazon warehouse employees had to take unpaid time off due to pain or exhaustion"

    Oops, sorry guv, just missed a decimal point there!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Understandable error....

      That's just the ones that bothered to report.

      What about the undocumented ones?

  12. Clarecats

    Nomadland

    I recommend reading Nomadland, this generation's Nickel And Dimed. The author Jessica Bruder went undercover in, and interviewed employees of, a last-quarter seasonally employed force of seniors, living in campervans and RVs while staffing an Amazon's warehouse. Painkiller dispensers, a man hit on the head and knocked flat by a box flying off a belt, robots fenced off and seemingly repeating the same job they just did. The author found that many seniors came back year after year, because they needed the money. They were in this position because of losing their job, home or family, most having worked responsible and higher graded jobs for decades. Amazon made them welcome, and worked them hard.

    I believe the book has been filmed.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Nomadland

      It has been filmed. Directed by Chloe Zhao. Won three Oscar’s.

      You can watch on PrimeVideo for £2.49.

  13. BebopWeBop

    But

    They have such a nice advert on terrestrial (at least) television explain how cuddly they are. Can't be wrong can it?

  14. martinusher Silver badge

    Pah! Wimps!

    Compared to the typical working conditions of 100 years ago or so the typical logistics warehouse is almost idyllic. It makes you wonder what it must have been like back then, not working somewhere obviously hard and horrible like a coal mine but, say, just working in a store. From what I've read its just plain horrible, yet somehow people survived. I suppose they got used to having no control over their (miserable) lives, no prospects and no freedom.

    We should ask ourselves what changes would make working at Amazon's warehouses a bit more pleasant. More money, of course -- but the real problem seems to be the insane pace where everything is timed to fractional parts of a second, there's no slack time and no allowance for repetitive strain. You're just a cog in the machine.....

    See http://yorkshirefolksong.net/song.cfm?songID=102 (the words I learned as a youngster were slightly different but my Mum was a Londoner...)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like