Four Amazon warehouse workers died in separate accidents over a period of less than four weeks. While the details of each death are still imminent, the deaths shine a stronger light on a common complaint about Amazon: It demands a grueling pace of work and puts employees at risk of infection and overheating.
There is a set of circumstances surrounding death. Rafael Reynaldo Motta Frias, 42, was reported to have died of a heart attack in Carteret, NJ, while Prime Day was underway on July 13. . Alex Carrillo, 22, died six days after a forklift crash on August 1 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
A fourth worker, Eric Fadensky, died after a workplace accident in Monroe Township, New Jersey, on August 4. All deaths are under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has six months to publish its findings.
Amazon expressed its condolences to all the families of the deceased. “Each of these tragic incidents has affected our teams significantly, and we are providing resources to families and employees who need them,” said Amazon spokesperson Sam Stephenson. “Our investigations are ongoing and we are cooperating with OSHA, which conducts its own reviews of events, as it often does in these situations.”
The investigations come at a time when Amazon is already facing investigations from federal and state regulators over workplace safety as well as workers’ opposition to what they say are dangerously hot workplaces. Recently, a group of workers quit their jobs at the Amazon airline hub in San Bernardino, California, in protest of hot working conditions and pay.
The deaths also come as people reconsider the role of Amazon in their lives in light of the dangerous working conditions reported by the media, advocates and workers themselves. A group of 70 TikTok influencers signed a pledge in August promising to shut down Amazon storefronts and wish lists and avoid entering into new agreements with Amazon to monetize their videos when users click on the Amazon Marketplace.
Posted by TikTokers: Reports of overheating in warehouses and in trucks workers must load and unload in the sun. An image shared by workers’ rights organization More Perfect Union, showing the shipping area of an Amazon truck registered an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius).
“Amazon treats its workers like crap,” TikTokerasianlefty said in a video, citing worker complaints about hot workspaces and limited water, adding that he was joining the People Over Prime Pledge.
Amazon spokesman Stevenson noted that the company’s warehouses have climate control. “Our teams are trained to follow strict safety procedures when working during hot weather, and our policies meet or exceed industry standards and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance,” he said.
Prevent future deaths in warehouses
It’s hard to draw general conclusions from the four deaths, said Eric Fromen, director of health and safety at the union-affiliated Center for Strategic Regulation, adding that warehouse deaths are statistically rare across the industry.
However, workplace safety experts say the deaths raise questions.
“Deaths in the workplace are too many,” said Marisa Baker, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington.
This is also not the first death that Amazon has seen in the past 12 months. While it’s unclear exactly how many Amazon workers have died in the company’s warehouses over the years, five employees and a delivery driver working for an Amazon contractor died in a collapsed warehouse during a hurricane in December.
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated the incident and asked Amazon to review its severe weather policies, the deaths do not appear in the two OSHA data sets that collect information on deaths. When asked by CNET, OSHA did not provide information on why deaths were not recorded in its data sets. Amazon said in a statement that it is notifying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of all deaths in accordance with the law.
In general, both deaths and injuries are not counted, Al Baker said. “This does not mean that the data we have should be ignored or unreliable,” she said. But she added that there was a need for more standardization in the registration of injuries and deaths at work.
Frumin, director of health and safety at the Strategic Regulation Center, added that OSHA’s investigations must be thorough to create preventive plans for the future.
When considering Boland’s death in Robbinsville, he said, investigators have to ask why someone fell off a three-foot ladder in the first place. Even if a similar fall did not lead to someone’s death in the future, it could still cause serious injury. Regulators in Washington state said Amazon workers often skip tools like tiered stools, or use them unsafely, because they fear they will be punished if they slow enough to use them properly.
For Mota Frias, who died of cardiac arrest on peak day, investigators will have to consider whether the heat and pace of work made the medical emergency worse.
Amazon denied responsibility for his death. Company spokesman Stephenson said the death was “related to a personal medical condition.” Amazon workers told the Daily Beast that the area where Mota Frias operated was dangerously hot, but Stevenson said claims that the heat was a wrong factor. Stevenson said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will make a decision on the matter, adding, “We fully expect it to come to the same conclusion.”
A heart attack on the job could be work-related, Froomen said, even if it was caused by an underlying health condition. In addition, he said, workers who fear losing their jobs will often work through health concerns.
Frumin also thinks it’s worth considering the fact that the death occurred on Prime Day, when advocates say increased production demands lead to higher infection rates.
“That’s a big alarm,” Fromen said.
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