Federal regulators tell Amazon that the 'gamification' of its warehouses contributes to a 'high risk of serious' injury
Amazon was cited again by federal regulators alleging its warehouse workers face "high" injury risks.
Regulators said a "gamification system" encouraged working at a fast pace that could pose injury.
Amazon said it is cooperating with investigators and that it has worked to lower injury rates.
Amazon warehouse workers at multiple locations face higher risks of developing injuries from straining themselves on the job, according to federal safety regulators.
The Department of Labor's workplace safety agency wrote citations for three warehouses, located in New York, Colorado, and Idaho, saying that workers there had to repeatedly handle heavy items and work fast, posing a "high risk of serious" injury.
In the New York warehouse, for instance, workers routinely deal with heavy items weighing more than 25 lbs, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In a letter targeting the warehouse in Idaho, OSHA said Amazon should change its "gamification system to eliminate incentives for excessively paced work."
Amazon introduced video-game-like systems into its warehouses in 2019 with the intent of alleviating some of the mind-numbing drudgery of packing, sorting, and picking products for up to 11 hours a day – and boosting productivity. The games have retro-looking graphics and names like "MissionRacer," "PicksInSpace," "Dragon Duel," and "CastleCrafter."
Workers who reach the top of the leaderboards by moving more merchandise than their peers earn "swag bucks" they can spend on Amazon-branded apparel and gear. Participation is voluntary.
The agency also said that the way the job was structured at the Amazon warehouses it was citing had workers "awkwardly twisting, bending and extending themselves to lift items," and said it would seek fines of $46,875 for the three warehouses combined.
While a drop in the bucket compared to Amazon's $100 billion-plus in quarterly revenue, the fines represent a significant enforcement action by the federal agency. Typical OSHA fines hover around $3,000.
"Amazon's operating methods are creating hazardous work conditions and processes, leading to serious worker injuries," said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, in OSHA's statement on Wednesday. "They need to take these injuries seriously and implement a company-wide strategy to protect their employees from these well-known and preventable hazards."
Amazon said that it has already reduced its injury rates by "nearly 15%" from 2019 to 2021, and that it has been cooperating with government investigators.
"We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously, and we don't believe the government's allegations reflect the reality of safety at our sites," Amazon representative Kelly Nantel said in a statement. "We also know there will always be more to do, and we'll continue working to get better every day."
The agency also highlighted solutions that can address issues it identified, including training to help supervisors spot when workers are getting injured.
Regulators also said the work would be less strenuous if there were limits on how fast it expects the work done, and if shelves were stocked such that workers won't have to repeatedly reach too high or low to pick up items.
Worker advocates have also called on Amazon to implement structural changes that would limit the risk of injuries.
"Instead of fighting federal orders to design truly safe jobs, Amazon must start by admitting that its business model prioritizes speed and profit over safety," said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director at the Strategic Organizing Center, a group of worker unions, in a statement on Wednesday.
In recent months, Amazon has been hit by similar OSHA citations relating to injury risks facing workers, and to how it tracked and monitored those injuries. Insider's Katherine Long has previously reported that Amazon warehouse workers face significantly higher risks of the kind of injuries that OSHA has cited Amazon about, a category of "musculoskeletal" injuries caused by strenuous and repetitive physical labor.
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