Thursday, December 23, 2021

Time to Investigate the Rising Tide of Workplace Injuries at Major Fulfilment Sites

In the Interests of All as Union Figures Show Danger Levels Increasing
Shipping News Feature

UK – Warehouse work can be dangerous, as every self-respecting logistics operator with their own terminal will know. It seems the GMB union however is convinced that those distribution facilities run by Amazon are unnecessarily hazardous, and has produced some statistics it says backs this up.

The union says it is ‘shameful’ that figures reveal more than a thousand serious injuries at Amazon sites have been reported to health and safety bodies since 2016, according to its latest investigation. 294 were reported in the financial year 2020/21, up from 231 the year before, or an increase of 27%. This compared to 139 reports in 2016/17. The GMB believes the true figure could be much higher, with not all local authorities having responded to the FOI survey. Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, said:

“More than a thousand serious injuries at Amazon sites is a shameful statistic and one that the company must address urgently, and the true picture is probably worse. GMB investigations have now built up years’ worth of evidence and there can be no denying Amazon warehouse are currently dangerous, dehumanising places to work.

“We will be writing to the Health and Safety Executive to set out our findings, it is time for a proper external audit and investigation of working conditions at this highly profitable company. It’s time Amazon stopped burying its head in the sand, met with GMB and worked out how to make Amazon a great, safe place to work.”

Separate new figures obtained by the union show that more than a thousand ambulance callouts were also made over the same period, and that callouts rose by 56% during the pandemic (between 2019/20 and 2020/21). Despite Amazon’s claim that ‘the vast majority of ambulance call outs to our buildings are related to pre-existing conditions,’ the union says ambulance trusts reported multiple callouts for falls, traumatic injuries, and cases of Covid-19. At one ambulance trust in Yorkshire, specific traumatic injuries accounted for one in ten callouts.

The GMB goes on to cite numerous incidents which have left warehouse staff unable to attend work for a week or more, however, as anyone who has worked at such industry facilities will know, danger is all around in that environment and there are many factors to be taken into account when calculating what the risk factor was which led to the incident.

Although painful for those who suffered injury, many of the claims, drawn from local authority reports, can be dismissed as spurious. There has never been a remedy for stupidity and much of the report is sour grapes from those who are clearly unhappy in their jobs, such as drivers saying they have too much work, or others worrying they had coronavirus but fearful of losing pay if they took time off. Covid 19 has certainly been a factor in increasing problems as staff levels drop when many colleagues are isolating.

One consideration however should be taken seriously which involves workplace training. This should always be aimed at the lowest common denominator to make sure every member of staff understands the health and safety requirements and risk factors associated with their particular jobs. Times too have changed, one complaint is that a worker was injured and left unable to work for more than seven days due to back pain incurred after lifting a parcel that weighed 26kg, a weight 73% heavier than an internal limit of 15kg.

In warehouses handling sacks of nuts, cocoa beans etc. in the 1970s and 80s it was common to work an entire shift moving 80kg bags by hand onto and off vehicles and pallets. Those who have done so would likely raise an eyebrow at 26 kg and ask the question: ‘If it’s too heavy, why pick it up?’

In response to the GMB comments Amazon issued a statement saying the report was based on incomplete information that’s without context and designed to intentionally mislead, and going on to say:

“We know we’re not perfect and are continuing to get better every day, but the fact is that Amazon has 40% fewer injuries on average compared to other transportation and warehousing businesses. The vast majority of ambulance call outs to our buildings are related to pre-existing conditions, not work-related incidents, and as a responsible employer we will always call an ambulance if someone requires medical attention. Rather than arguing with self-interested critics who aren’t interested in facts or progress, we’re going to keep listening to our 55,000 employees, taking their feedback, and working hard to keep investing and improving for the long run.”

Despite our flippancy there is clearly a case for Amazon to take a look at its in house working and training practices. Equally, as it states, the sheer volume of staff employed by the company means there will always be high numbers associated with it, be that profits or workplace incidents. Statistics such as those assimilated by the GMB however tell a story which does not need close examination. If ambulance call outs rise sharply then it is up to the employer to discover and deal with the reason why. It would be in Amazon’s interest to do so and publicise the results itself. Just one incident is one too many.