Amazon faces new fines for workplace violations at its Aurora facility and several other warehouses nationwide, according to citations issued Wednesday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA cited Amazon for “unsafe conditions and ergonomic hazards” in Aurora as part of an ongoing federal investigation that also cited warehouses in Castleton, New York and Nampa, Idaho. The proposed fine totals $46,875.
The announcement follows the conclusion of similar investigations of three Amazon warehouses in Waukegan, Illinois; Deltona, Florida; and New Windsor, New York that resulted in similar citations totaling $60,269 in proposed fines.
Although citations have been issued, the investigation of workplace safety in Colorado, New York and Idaho warehouses, which began Aug. 1, is ongoing and subject to change. OSHA investigations usually must report findings after six months, but on Monday a judge extended the deadline to April 18. The investigation of all six sites has been the largest enforcement of ergonomic safety compliance ever, OSHA said in a Jan. 18 news release.
Ergonomic safety hazards increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, by exposing employees to situations like “lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively,” according to OSHA’s definition.
In the past, ergonomic safety violations have often been difficult for OSHA to address. No established legal standard exists for enforcing ergonomic safety, said Eric Frumin, health and safety director of the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions. Frumin said previous attempts to establish a legal standard for ergonomic safety have faced powerful corporate opposition. This recent effort by OSHA is unprecedented, he said.
“They’ve been investigating a lot of companies, big companies, with different kinds of problems over the years, and they have never had an investigation of this magnitude,” Frumin said.
OSHA’s investigation discovered high rates of MSDs among Amazon workers. According to the official citation, employees at the Aurora warehouse work in an environment that puts them at significant risk for developing MSDs from “repetitive lifting and carrying, twisting, bending and long reaches and combinations thereof.”
The safety of working conditions in Amazon warehouses has been contested by labor advocates for years. A 2020 investigation by Reveal, the Bay Area investigative journalism organization, pored through internal safety records and found that serious injuries at Amazon warehouses had increased 33% in three years, nearly double the industry standard at the time.
Amazon’s injury rate in its warehouses was nearly double the rate for the rest of the warehouse industry in 2021 — 7.7 injuries per 100 workers versus 4.0 injuries per 100 workers — according to an analysis of the company’s injury data conducted by the SOC.
Amazon said that it intends to appeal the OSHA citations.
“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 spokesperson Kelly Nantel said. “We’ve cooperated with the government through its investigation and have demonstrated how we work to mitigate risks and keep our people safe, and our publicly available data show we reduced injury rates in the U.S. nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021.”
OSHA also cited Amazon with 14 violations for improper recordkeeping in the company’s injury reports during the first round of investigation in December, levying $29,008 more in possible fines.
No Amazon workers are unionized in Colorado — the only unionized Amazon warehouse is in Staten Island, New York. The Amazon Labor Union tried to organize at a warehouse in Albany, New York, but employees voted no to a union in October. Efforts to organize service workers from Apple to Starbucks last year were met with mixed results. Several Starbucks stores in Colorado have voted to unionize, but contracts are still under negotiation.
Amazon employs more than 20,000 full- and part-time workers in Colorado. Many work in the warehouses and as fulfillment center workers. A number are also employed at the 22 Whole Foods Market grocery stores around the state.
The company opened its first warehouse in Colorado in 2016. The Aurora facility, known as DEN5, is where the latest OSHA citations were issued. Workers at the facility sort already sealed packages and then route them by ZIP code to local post offices for faster delivery to Colorado customers. Its first fulfillment center opened in 2018, also in Aurora, followed by another in Thornton where employees are assisted by robots. A Colorado Springs warehouse opened in 2021. The company is also constructing a new fulfillment center in Loveland.