Explosive Amazon warehouse data shows serious injuries have been on the rise for years, and robots have made the job more dangerous

  • Leaked data obtained by investigative journalism site Reveal about injury rates inside Amazon warehouses suggest the company has publicly downplayed how dangerous its warehouses are for workers.
  • The data shows injury rates have climbed every year from 2016 to 2019, that robotic warehouses on average clock more injuries than non-robotic ones, and injury rates increase significantly during busy periods including Prime Day and Amazon's "peak" holiday season.
  • Amazon rejected the claim that it misled the public, and said Reveal's metrics for what constitutes a "serious injury" skewed its interpretation of the injury data.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A new bombshell report details the burgeoning problem Amazon has with injuries in its warehouses, and claims the retail giant has consistently downplayed the issue.

A whistleblower handed injury data from Amazon's US warehouses (called "fulfillment centers" or FCs by the company) to the Center of Investigative Journalism's outlet Reveal.

The data breaks down how many injuries occurred weekly across 150 Amazon warehouses in the US between 2016 to 2019. A serious injury was defined by Reveal as one that requires time off work or changes to the job.

The leaked data shows Amazon logged 14,000 serious injuries across 150 US warehouses in 2019. This was 33% higher than Amazon's injury rate in 2016, and almost twice the industry standard.

 Injury rates per 100 workers have increased every year since 2016.

The data also showed that injury rates are higher on average in warehouses which have operating robots, and that injuries spike during the busy peak season ahead of Christmas and on Amazon's bonanza shopping events Prime Day and Cyber Monday.

The report indicated that in the most common type of warehouse (which processes small- to medium-sized items) the average rate of injury was 50% higher in warehouses with robots than those without from 2016 to 2019.

When contacted by Business Insider, an Amazon spokeswoman said the company rejected claims that it ever misled the public, and that Reveal's metrics for what constitutes a "serious injury" skewed its interpretation of the data. She did not address the data on robotic versus non-robotic warehouses or peak season.

Reveal claimed the data undercuts Amazon's public messaging about safety in its warehouses.

Amazon's CEO of consumer business Jeff Wilke told PBS Frontline last year that robots "make the job safer."

Reveal's investigation suggests however that the introduction of robots meant production quotas for workers in the warehouses have increased, putting more strain on the workers and increasing the injury rate.

One worker in a warehouse with robots said workers previously were expected to process 100 items per hour, but that went up to 400 after robots were introduced.

An anonymous former senior Amazon safety manager told Reveal the extra strain on workers in robotic warehouses became apparent fairly quickly. "We realized early on there was an issue. It was just – you're already moving that way at lightspeed, so how do you take a step back and readjust?" they said.

In response to a Business Insider investigation last year into what it's like to work during Amazon's holiday season — known internally as "peak" — an Amazon spokesperson asserted: "We know for a fact that recordable incidents do not increase during peak."

Reveal's data appears to contradict this. It also showed that in 2019 that the weeks in which Prime Day and Cyber Monday fell had the highest injury rates of the entire year.

"The stats prove what everybody knew — Amazon, quite literally, will break your back just to continue to push workers beyond what's humanly possible," Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the international UNI Global union, told Business Insider. "This is just the latest example of why workers need unions to negotiate safer workplace rules," she added.

Here is Amazon's statement in full:

"We strongly refute the claims that we've misled anyone. At Amazon, we are known for obsessing over customers — but we also obsess about our employees and their safety. Reveal is misinformed and guided by a sense of activism rather than journalism. The reporter is misinterpreting data, and the very internal documents he claims to have obtained ultimately illustrate one thing — we have a deep focus on the safety of our teams.

"We look at a variety of metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of our safety programs, but Reveal is misinformed regarding an OSHA safety metric that measures days away and restricted or transferred work (known as a DART rate) as something the reporter mistakenly calls aserious incident rate. The reality is that there is no such OSHA or industry 'serious incident rate,' and our DART rate is actually supportive of employees as it encourages someone with any type of injury, for example a small strain or sprain, to stay away from work until they're better.

"While we often accommodate employees with restrictions so that they can continue to work with full pay and benefits, we don't believe an employer should be penalized when it encourages an associate to remain away from work if that will better promote their healing. As a company, while we constantly learn and improve from the past, we focus on inventing programs that create a safer work environment, and we provide comprehensive health benefits starting on day one of employment.

"We continue to see improvements in injury prevention and reduction through programs focused on improved ergonomics, delivering guided physical and wellness exercises, providing mechanical workstation assistance equipment, improving workstation setup and design, forklift telematics, and forklift guardrails to separate equipment from pedestrians — to name a few"

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