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Amazon touts new initiative in response to criticism over work conditions at warehouses

KING 5 took a tour of the Kent fulfillment center to see exactly what kind of improvements Amazon is making for its workers.

KENT, Wash. — Amazon says it is taking steps to reduce muscular skeletal injuries in warehouse workers, and will spend millions to do it.

In a rare move Wednesday, the company also opened up their fulfillment center to KING 5 to show what they say will reduce injuries and the criticism that has been levied against the company.

"It is a safe place to work. I totally believe that every step of the way," said Amazon Kent Fulfillment Center General Manager Marty Kuhl, after a two-hour tour of the sprawling, four-story, 860,000-square-foot facility.

The action here is dizzying with 3,500 employees and 5,000 robots, which "stow, pick, and pack" hundreds of thousands of items a day.

Amazon has been criticized, and even fined, for the pace of the work. Just last month, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined the company $7,000 for working employees too hard. A September study also found that the rate of serious injuries in Dupont and Kent were above the national average.

"I've seen three years of trending in decreasing safety incidents in my building," said Kuhl, who took the opportunity to highlight the company's new Working Well initiative, which is aiming to reduce injuries by 50% in four years.

He pointed to the COVID-related changes, which includes technology to show that people remain spaced six feet apart, or the onsite vaccination clinic, which is paying employees to get a shot.

But Kuhl was quick to highlight the onsite, and seemingly spontaneous, seminars on stretching and lifting, or the attention to detail around sorting stations which include steps to avoid reaching or repetitive pulling at awkward angles. There is also an onsite tracking system for employees, to show where they've been working to avoid repetitive stress. "You spend a quarter doing this, these muscles, you've got to do something else," he said, while pointing at a screen full of data.

Then there is the hiring of a designated Injury Prevention Specialist, a Masters-degree level position which will be phased into every distribution site.

Jeff Campbell is one of the first for the company, and helped develop the Working Well program. "I don't believe we have a dangerous workplace based on all the efforts put in," he said, and that his role focuses on "strong body mechanics, and ergonomics" to reduce workplace injuries.

"My focus is what can we do to improve the situation in our building week-to-week," said Kuhl, who acknowledged as well that employees do have to hit certain performance benchmarks or the "making rate" as some internally call it. "Our biggest gains come from working with associates to remove barriers to their work."