Baltimore warehouse tragedy draws attention to Amazon's safety record
- On Saturday, two Amazon contractors died as the result of a tornado in Baltimore, Maryland, Friday, that tore off a section of the warehouse roof and collapsed an eight-inch-thick, 50-foot high concrete wall, according to WBAL TV, Baltimore's NBC affiliate.
- Amazon's senior vice president of operations Dave Clark said on Twitter Saturday that "severe weather impacted" the facility "resulting in 2 fatalities." The tornado was a complete surprise to meteorologists, and no warning was issued.
- Earlier this year, The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) put Amazon at the top of its "Dirty Dozen" list of companies that "put workers and communities at risk due to unsafe practices."
updated- Last night severe weather impacted one of our Baltimore facilities resulting in 2 fatalities. Thank you to the emergency response teams who have been working through the night. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by yesterday’s tragic event.— Dave Clark (@savehclark) November 3, 2018
Workplace deaths overall are on the rise, increasing 12% from 2013 to 2016, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The Amazon incident would be classified by the BLS as roof-related structural fatalities — in 2016 there were 151 such fatalities at U.S. workplaces — a number that has been rising since 2011, except for a slight dip in 2015.
Structures and surfaces are consistently the third-most prevalent cause of work-related fatalities (behind people and vehicles) and they've been on the rise from 2011 and 2016. There were 602 such fatalities at U.S. workplaces in 2016, a 9.65% increase from 2011.
Though physical workplace structure-related deaths are on the rise, operations-related fatalities are more common.
With a network as large as Amazon's, it's perhaps not surprising that this is not the first fatality for the company. But Amazon's rating on the COSH list suggests a deeper problem. COSH reported that Amazon has had seven fatalities since 2013 related to forklifts, pallet-loaders, conveyor belts and auto-accidents along with one heart-related fatality. Also in the "dirty dozen" are Lowe's, New York and Atlantic Railway and Tesla among others.
Fatalities caused by forklifts, order-pickers and platform-powered trucks ticked up slightly at the national level over the same five years growing from 66 fatalities in 2011 to 72 in 2016.
For these fatalities, COSH says it comes down to training.
"We need more resources for research, training and enforcement, not less," said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH in a statement. "Otherwise, employers like the Dirty Dozen get the message that it’s okay to cut corners on workplace safety. It’s not okay — ever — when a worker doesn’t come home to his or her family."
In response to the COSH list, Amazon put out a lengthy statement including: "Ensuring the safety of these associates is our number one priority."
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