Following concerning reports on worker safety and demands from lawmakers, Amazon is finally planning to start performing temperature checks and providing face masks for all workers at its European and U.S. warehouses, as well as Whole Foods stores, early next week, Reuters reports.
The company told Reuters that it will use no-contact forehead thermometers to check workers’ temperatures, and that anyone registering over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will be sent home. Those workers will not be allowed to return until they have gone three days without a fever. So far, temperature scans have begun at Amazon facilities in Seattle and New York, with 100,000 daily checks.
Amazon also said it plans to have surgical masks available for its workers early next week. It had originally ordered N95 respirators, but those will instead be donated to medical workers or sold at cost to the government or healthcare organizations. In addition to masks and temperature checks, Amazon said it plans to use machine-learning software to see if employees are maintaining the appropriate amount of distance during their shifts.
These are moves in the right direction, considering Amazon’s warehouse workers are on the front lines as more people look to order their groceries and essential household items online. Earlier this week, Walmart said it would start rolling out the same measures. It’s also a bit late, considering the company has up until now been frustratingly vague about its approach to worker safety. Four U.S. senators sent a letter last week questioning Amazon about its standards, citing specific claims from workers that facilities were not following social distancing guidelines set by the CDC. The letter also highlighted the lack of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, and how workers were not given enough time to properly wash their hands. That tracks with the experience of an Amazon worker who told Gizmodo that their facility had not properly implemented social distancing policies. As Amazon seeks to hire an additional 100,000 workers to handle the boom in orders, the company was reportedly found packing applicants in job fairs. In a statement, Amazon said the accusations about a lack of worker protections were “simply unfounded.”
That’s all despite the fact that Amazon workers have already tested positive for covid-19, with some employees turning to Reddit to track cases as the company itself hasn’t readily shared information about the spread of the novel coronavirus at its facilities. Earlier in March, Amazon reopened its Queens facility within a day after a worker there tested positive for covid-19. In total, Reuters reports, at least 19 warehouses have workers who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which in turn has led to workers to walk out in protest in New York, Chicago, and Detroit.
Gizmodo reached out to Amazon about its new worker safety measures to clarify whether all workers sent home due to fevers would be afforded sick leave, but did not immediately receive a response. Last month, Amazon created a $25 million covid-19 relief fund for contractors, but to qualify for the two weeks of sick leave, they must apply for a grant and provide documentation from a health care provider, government health official, or Amazon stating covid-19 was the reason they couldn’t work.