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Amazon employee monitoring system directly connected to workplace injuries, L&I finds

L&I found workers at an Amazon fulfillment center were required to perform repetitive physical labor at "such a fast pace" that it increased the risk of injury.

KENT, Wash. — Amazon was fined $60,000 for "knowingly putting workers at risk of injury" at a Kent fulfillment center, according to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries.

L&I ergonomists found that workers were required to perform repetitive, physical work like twisting, lifting, and carrying at "such a fast pace" that it increased the risk of injury. 

The tasks "have caused, and are likely to continue to cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of the low back," according to an L&I inspection.

The infraction is classified as a "willful serious violation" due to three similar violations the company committed at two other Washington fulfillment centers. 

"The company is aware of these hazards," L&I wrote in a statement. "The company has not yet made necessary changes to improve workplace safety and has consistently denied the association between pace of work and injury rates." 

An Amazon representative argued L&I's report is not accurate. 

“We strongly disagree with L&I’s claims and don’t believe they are supported by the facts. We intend to appeal the citation,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.

In all three of the previous complaints, L&I inspections found a "direct connection" between Amazon's employee monitoring and discipline systems and workplace musculoskeletal disorders.

Amazon was requiring workers to perform physical tasks too quickly on two separate occasions at a fulfillment center in DuPont, according to L&I. The company was fined $7,000 for a violation at the center on May 4, 2021, and again on Jan. 19, 2022. 

"Employees are repeatedly lifting loads up to 49 pounds by hand to and from locations that require bending, stooping and reaching without the assistance of material handling equipment," L&I found. 

The company was found not to be following elements of its own ergonomics program that were intended to decrease the risk of workplace injuries at the warehouse. The inspection also found not all employees were trained on the ergonomics program or the exposures, symptoms and consequences of repetitive motion injuries.

The company was fined another $7,000 for a similar violation at a fulfillment center in Sumner in December of 2021. There were 36 reported workplace injuries at the facility since 2019. The warehouse had an MSD injury rate two to two-and-a-half times higher than the warehousing industry average, according to L&I. 

An inspection found "The pace of work also makes it impractical for workers to follow Amazon's safety training, including safe lifting methods and setting the brakes on carts while loading and unloading them."

Amazon has active appeals for its three previous violations, according to L&I. The company has 15 days to appeal the most recent violation.

The inspection of the Kent facility also found the company failed to notify L&I when 10 or more employees tested positive for COVID-19 at the fulfillment center on two separate occasions. However, the department said the situation was "not believed to exist any longer."

    

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