Survey shows the health cost of working for Amazon: exclusive

Survey shows the health cost of working for Amazon: exclusive

AMazon has long been criticized for the demanding targets it sets for its workers. Now a new survey adds more detail about the impact those goals seem to have on employees’ physical and mental health. It comes as the US Department of Labor fined Amazon $60,000 on Wednesday for what it said it failed to keep workers safe at three US warehouses.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors found workers at Amazon warehouses in Deltona, Florida; Waukegan, Ill.; and New Windsor, New York, for being “at high risk for low back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders related to the high frequency with which workers are required to lift packages and other items; the great weight of the articles; awkward postures, such as twisting, bending, and overreaching when lifting objects; and long hours required to complete assigned tasks.”

“Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, resulting in serious injuries to workers,” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said in a statement. “While Amazon has built impressive systems to make sure its customers’ orders ship efficiently and quickly, the company hasn’t shown the same level of commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its workers.”

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In a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said Amazon “fully” disagrees with the Labor Department’s assessment and intends to appeal it. “The government’s accusations do not reflect the reality of security at our sites. Over the past few months, we’ve shown how much we work every day to mitigate risk and protect our people, and our publicly available data shows we’ve reduced injury rates by nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021. Additionally, the The vast majority of our employees tell us they feel our workplace is safe.”

The new survey, shared exclusively with TIME, was conducted by worker-focused communications agency Jarrow Insights on behalf of UNI Global Union, a worker rights group. The survey includes more than 2,000 self-proclaimed Amazon workers in eight countries.

More than half of the people surveyed (51%) said that Amazon’s monitoring of their productivity at work had a negative impact on their physical health. A slightly higher percentage of respondents, 57%, reported that company tracking had a negative impact on their mental health. “I was harassed for not reaching my targets, negative feedback every day,” said one respondent who said he was a UK warehouse worker with wrist problems. “I had to explain why I can’t reach the goals even with the doctors’ recommendations not to overload my hands. Now I’m off work again.”

“They wrote to me the day I got back from losing my son,” wrote a self-identified US warehouse worker.

In a statement, Amazon spokesman Steve Kelly questioned the survey’s methodology. “This online survey was funded and administered by labor groups that perpetuate false information to suit their own narratives,” he said. “The result is loaded, statistically insignificant and contradicts what our own employees tell us directly. In our most recent internal survey, conducted randomly and anonymously, nearly 9 in 10 of our colleagues say they feel safe at work and that their managers are doing everything they can to ensure their safety.”

It’s true that the Jarrow Insights survey was not random: it was distributed through online advertisements that targeted people who identified themselves as Amazon workers on social media or who were geographically located within Amazon facilities (which account for 75% of responses), as well as through outreach to worker organizations (7.6%), according to a Jarrow Insights spokesperson (the rest came from employees sharing the survey with colleagues). Respondents were asked to self-identify whether they were warehouse workers, delivery drivers, or office workers. However, as the Jarrow Insights spokesperson tells TIME, the group intentionally created a larger sample size than was statistically necessary to mitigate any potential problems due to the targeting approach of the survey design. Also, the spokesperson says, they are not claiming that the results represent all Amazon workers, but only those respondents who identified as Amazon workers.


With more than 1.6 million employees worldwide, Amazon is the fifth largest employer in the world. It is also the fifth most valuable public company in the world, with a market capitalization of nearly $1 trillion. In a statement, UNI Global Union criticized Amazon’s labor practices. “By studying the responses in their entirety, a clear picture of countries and roles emerges,” a UNI Global Union spokesperson said in a statement accompanying the survey. “The majority of workers surveyed expressed their belief that Amazon’s monitoring of their job performance is excessive and opaque, that their expectations are unrealistic, and that striving to meet these unrealistic expectations has negative effects on their physical and, ultimately, health. even more acutely, on his mental health. Health.”

Read more: Amazon’s dangerous ambition to dominate healthcare

It’s not the first assessment to find Amazon’s workplace security lacking. Last March, the workplace safety regulator in Amazon’s home state of Washington accused the retail giant of “knowingly putting workers at risk of injury” to the back, shoulders, wrists and legs. knees. “Many Amazon jobs involve repetitive motion, lifting, carrying, twisting and other physical work,” the regulator’s report stated. “Workers are required to perform these tasks at such a fast pace that the risk of injury increases.” Amazon disputes the findings and is now suing that regulator, accusing it of failing to prove any violations of safety or health regulations.

The report compiled by UNI Global Union builds a picture of the different ways Amazon and its outsourcing partners police their workers as a means of tracking productivity.

At Amazon warehouses, the report says, workers are monitored via hand scanners and ID cards. Break times, the report says, are measured from the time a handheld scanner scans their last item before a break and the first item after, regardless of where the employee is in the warehouse.

Workers with irritable bowel syndrome, which can require longer periods in the bathroom, reported “frictions” with Amazon’s “time off from homework” policies, according to the report. “Today I received a notice for ‘unaccounted down time’ due to my SII,” reported a self-identified US warehouse worker. “I am constantly harassed for missing work or going to the bathroom because of my illness.”

Delivery drivers, often employed by outside contractors, report tracking them via GPS devices and cameras in their vehicles. The report also finds that nearly two-thirds of respondents who identified as delivery drivers reported a “negative” impact on their physical health as a result of Amazon’s monitoring.

One respondent said the targets also posed a risk to the general public. “I feel like I’m drowning all day, causing me to drive unsafely to meet unreasonable expectations.[s]said a self-described US-based Amazon delivery person in response to the survey.

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write to Billy Perrigo at billy.perrigo@time.com.

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