Amazon says rising injury rates are due to generous recuperation time

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On Tuesday, Reveal published a major report about rising injury rates at Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses, sourced from leaked internal data and interviews with numerous sources, claiming that Amazon has misled the public about those rates. However, Amazon says it hasn’t “misled anyone” and that Reveal is misinterpreting Amazon’s data.

“The very internal documents [Reveal] claims to have obtained ultimately illustrate one thing—we have a deep focus on the safety of our teams,” the company said in a statement to The Verge.

Reveal’s article illustrates that the rate of serious injuries at Amazon warehouses has increased between 2016 and 2019. But in its response, Amazon disputed what qualifies as a serious injury, arguing that the numbers are higher because the company is more generous in granting recuperation time.

An illustration of serious injuries per 100 workers at Amazon warehouses.
Image: Reveal

Amazon also claims Reveal is “misinformed” about the metric of a serious injury rate in the first place:

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 a serious 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.

Reveal never actually uses the phrase “serious incident rate” in its article, though; it seems Amazon is instead referring to Reveal’s use of the term “serious injury rate.” And Reveal managing editor Andy Donohue pushed back on Amazon’s characterization, telling The Verge that the “serious injury rate” phrasing was deliberate: “all we’ve done is removed government acronym jargon — DART — and instead used a phrase that’s more friendly to the reader — ‘serious injury.’”

Donohue also pointed to a Bureau of Labor Statistics website about how to calculate injury incidence rates, which said the formula to calculate DART rate can be used to calculate serious injury rates as well.

Reveal’s article also says that Amazon’s warehouses with robots, which the company has claimed would improve worker safety, actually have higher injury rates than warehouses that don’t. The efficiency of the robots has reportedly increased quotas significantly, meaning workers may be subject to hours of repetitive manual labor that can lead to injury.

Amazon claims it is making improvements for a safer working environment. “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,” the company said in its statement.

But Amazon has only piloted some changes to help reduce injury risk, according to Reveal. One that had shown promise (and was recommended by OSHA) involved having workers rotate to other jobs during the day. But “despite the considerable benefits, half of the pilot sites decided to turn off sort rotation during Prime Week,” Reveal quoted from an Amazon safety team report from August 2019.

Amazon also tells The Verge that it has committed more than $1 billion in 2020 to investments in safety, including safety technologies as well as masks, gloves, and enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols. Presumably, however, most of that is the $800 million the company has committed to COVID-19 safety measures, and it’s unclear how much the company is putting toward other safety needs. The company also says it has more than 5,000 employees on its employee health and safety team.

Donohue tells The Verge that Amazon declined interview requests and did not directly answer Reveal’s questions. “We began requesting an interview on August 19 and sent a list of 35 detailed questions about our findings and data on September 9,” Donohue said. “In response, Amazon provided only a general statement about its safety initiatives, which we incorporated into our story where relevant.“

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