- The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a nongovernmental organization for workers and unions, released a report this week calling on Amazon to build a comprehensive ergonomics program for its fulfillment center workers and reduce its line speeds.
- The report included a survey NYCOSH conducted of 145 employees at the Amazon Fulfillment Center on Staten Island in New York City. The survey was conducted by canvassing and found 80% of surveyed workers had been pushed to work harder, 66% had experienced physical pain on the job, and 18% "indicated they were injured as a result of their work." Amazon refutes these findings, questioning the validity of the survey.
- "This report includes a biased and unreliable survey which supposedly surveyed less than 3% of our Staten Island workforce," Amazon said in a statement emailed to Supply Chain Dive. "It is an example of selective data skewed to support false statements by an organization that’s sole business objective is to misinform the public on Amazon’s safety record. The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality working environment for the over 250,000 hourly employees across the U.S., including over 4,500 full-time employees supporting customers at our Staten Island fulfillment center."
NYCOSH's report says the facility has 2,500 employees, citing a Vox article from 2018. Amazon says this number is actually 4,500 full-time employees. It's not clear how much of this difference is the result of growth over the last nine months. (A Supply Chain Dive reporter toured this facility last week and was told 4,500 full-time employees work at the facility.)
Amazon criticized the survey for its small sample size, saying it is "only representative of 145 employees surveyed – not the full 4,500 workforce at our Staten Island facility." A questionnaire that asked questions to all 4,500 employees would be a census, not a survey. A small sample size in a survey results in a larger margin of error. NYCOSH, however, did not provide a margin of error in its report. (An approximate margin of error for 95% confidence can be calculated by dividing 1 by the square of the sample size, which in this case is 8.3%)
"Amazon continues to skew data in their favor instead of looking into the findings of our report," Charlene Obernauer, executive director at NYCOSH, said in an email to Supply Chain Dive. "The data pool that we used is statistically significant for the number of workers employed at the facility — Amazon inflates that number by counting all of its staff, including managerial employees who were not surveyed."
The NYCOSH canvassers asked the Staten Island employees about where they felt the most pain and nearly a third of workers said they experienced foot pain while another one in five said they experienced knee pain. The report also cites 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data saying that nationally 5.1% of warehouse workers experience work-related illnesses or injuries.
Amazon is actively studying the health and safety risks warehouse workers are exposed to. It is funding research at the University of Washington that is looking at how loading bins, picking heavy objects from high shelves and 17 other actions impact the human body.
Some companies are hoping technology could be a solution to these types of injuries in warehouse settings. This can be done by replacing dangerous jobs with robotic applications or by monitoring human workers to ensure they're doing the job safely.
"Now that people are starting to work in settings where robots are used, we have a unique opportunity to split up the work so that the robots are doing the risky jobs," Ashis Banerjee, an assistant professor at the University of Washington and a senior author of the research funded by Amazon, said in a blog post earlier this year.
NYCOSH concluded its report by laying out steps for creating an ergonomics program, which included evaluating risk factors, and collecting health and medical evidence. Amazon did not immediately respond to a follow-up question asking if they had conducted a survey of its employees that reached different conclusions.