Amazon, faced with criticism over warehouse employee injuries, tests new tech to make moving packages safer

Amazon, faced with criticism over warehouse employee injuries, tests new tech to make moving packages safer
·3 min read
amazon package logo warehouse
A package in an Amazon warehouse on December 8, 2020. Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • Amazon is testing new technologies in an effort to make handling packages safer for employees.

  • One such project in early development involves the use of motion-capture software.

  • A recent analysis found Amazon workers suffer injuries at higher rates than other companies.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Amazon is testing new technologies in a bid to make handling packages and other work safer for employees, the e-commerce said Sunday, two weeks after a Washington Post analysis found Amazon warehouse workers suffer serious injuries at higher rates than other companies.

The company said in a post that its robotics and advanced technology teams are testing and developing new projects, like one project in early development that involves using motion-capture software to asses employees' movement.

The company has a goal of reducing recordable incidents by half by 2025, Kevin Keck, Amazon's worldwide director of advanced technology, said in the post.

"Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale," Keck said.

The safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny in recent months. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.

A spokesperson for Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns the Post, declined to provide comment to the newspaper on specific data showing the rate of injuries, and did not dispute the Post's method for analyzing injury rates.

The spokesperson said Amazon spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.

On Sunday, the company said it is testing one project with the goal of reducing the need for workers in fulfillment centers to reach up or bend down when fetching items, movements which could strain employees' bodies.

The workstation system, nicknamed "Ernie," would instead take totes off of a robotic shelf and use a robotic arm to deliver the items to employees.

Amazon warehouse staff
Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

A separate robotics project undergoing testing, nicknamed "Bert," would autonomously move through Amazon warehouses and may have the ability to move heavy items, taking strain off of employees.

The company has come under pressure for the way it has operated its facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last fall, two Michigan lawmakers who made a surprise visit to an Amazon warehouse questioned the safety of Amazon facilities. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell, both Democrats, said they saw workers bypassing temperature checks and said they saw just one cleaning crew for an 850,000 square-foot warehouse, Bloomberg News reported.

Other reports have highlighted the dangers warehouse workers can face on the job. Last fall, the Center of Investigative Journalism's publication Reveal found that Amazon recorded 14,000 serious injuries (defined as those requiring days off or job restrictions) in 2019. The rate Reveal's Will Evans found of 7.7 series injuries per 100 employees was 33% higher than in 2016.

A spokesperson said Amazon's top priority is the health and safety of its teams.

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