Since opening in September 2018, Amazon’s massive fulfillment center on New York’s Staten Island has garnered a reputation as grueling and unsafe, even among a logistics network broadly criticized as such. Now, leaked company documents reveal that injury rates at the warehouse, known as JFK8, are over three times the industry average. What’s unclear is if these numbers are at all anomalous compared to Amazon’s other facilities.
“When you crunch those basic numbers from Amazon’s own submission, it’s staggering,” Frank Kearl, a staff lawyer with nonprofit Make the Road, told Gizmodo. “They have higher rates of injuries, and the injuries themselves are incredibly severe, compared to the national average, compared to the national warehouse average, and compared to industries that are known for being very dangerous like solid waste collection, policing. [...] Amazon knows it has an injury crisis going on at the JFK8 facility.”
The source of this data is the benign-sounding Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 300 and 300a forms. The former is filled out and submitted by management any time injuries of a certain severity occur, while the latter aggregates all incidents and is reported at the end of each year. Beyond giving OSHA a bird’s eye view of national and industry trends, “it also is a way that businesses are able to track their own data to see what problems they have in their facilities so they can fulfill their duty under the law to protect their workforce from injuries,” Kearl said.
Plugging the information contained in the forms into OSHA’s own incident rate calculator, JFK8 scored a whopping 15.19 in 2018. For contrast, in 2018, sawmills scored a 6.1; steel foundries: 10.2.
These internally produced and government-mandated numbers also support research produced by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit that serves as an industry watchdog, last month. “The Amazon SI facility injury and illness rate is [...] a stunning 3 times as high as the average for all other warehouses nationwide,” states the report, which extrapolated its findings from surveys and interviews with 145 workers. Amazon roundly dismissed the findings as “biased and unreliable,” calling the report “an example of selective data skewed to support false statements by an organization that’s sole business objective is to misinform the public on Amazon’s safety record.”
While OSHA 300 and 300a data is not immediately available to the public, any current or former Amazon employee can submit a request for the logs in writing or by emailing the facilities or HR manager of their building, according to Zachary Lerner, senior labor organizing director with New York Communities for Change. Lerner and Kearl also claim that, once requested, the information effectively becomes public, aside from the names of those injured. Consequently, those names are redacted in the document below. Further 300 and 300a data derived from the company’s other facilities—which they are legally obligated to provide if it is requested—would give a more accurate indication of its workplace safety record as a whole.
Notably, JFK8 only opened in September of 2018, so the data in these documents only covers a portion of the year, and the busiest one at that—the so-called “peak season,” beginning around Thanksgiving and ending around New Year’s when workers report increased hours, restrictions on using vacation days, and mandatory overtime. Amazon might argue that this inconvenient timing is responsible for JFK8's unflattering injury rate. However, the intensity of the workload is reflected in the toll its injuries take.
As a term of art within OSHA, the severity rate is calculated simply: number of lost workdays divided by reportable incidents. For JFK8 last year, crunching those figures results in a severity rate of 64, or over two months of missed work per reportable injury, on average. Amazon has not answered Gizmodo’s questions about the OSHA report, and without additional data, it’s impossible to know if these rates are unusually high within the company’s logistics network.
The overwhelming number of injuries detailed in the 300a are sprains and bruises, though warehouse workers claim worse has occurred in the facility. “There was a lady I know. I cried when she told me she had a miscarriage. She was five months pregnant,” a current JFK8 worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told Gizmodo. “The managers just refused to put her in a different section where she might have had less bending, stretching and things to do.” Though we were unable to contact the woman in question, this story was corroborated by a second, recently-terminated worker at the same Staten Island warehouse.
These numbers only tell part of the story, however. In order for an incident to rise to the level of being written up and reported to OSHA, it must meet specific criteria—death, loss of workdays, loss of consciousness, broken bones, and other injuries that cannot be stabilized on-site. “If someone cuts their hand with a boxcutter or something they’re able to receive first aid [for] and then return to work, that’s not a recorded injury,” Kearl said.
“They would tell us to work extremely fast, so I’d trip up over the ladder. I’d have bruises on my legs,” the former JFK8 worker said. She complained of falling boxes, and of dehydration. “The fans—a lot of them don’t work, which causes a lot of people to get really dizzy.” Workers from this facility have spoken publicly about temperature control problems in JFK8 since at least last December.
Kearl suspects the reporting criteria also result in repetitive motion injuries— common among warehouse workers—being largely omitted from OSHA reportage. “Workers are getting hurt through the course of working long hours doing physical labor, and they are dealing with those problems on their own,” he said. Of the 107 reported incidents, only four seem to belong to this category: two carpal tunnel syndrome cases, an unspecified nerve injury, and tendonitis. All were recorded as affecting the left and right hand, left and right wrist, or both.
Behind these damaging numbers is the same pervasive demand to complete tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible that workers have spoken up about for years, with little improvement in their conditions to show for it. “You eat and immediately it’s over. You have to get up and keep going,” the current JFK8 worker said. The limited break times followed by physically intensive labor have resulted in her vomiting at work. “I remember telling my manager. He didn’t even ask if I was OK, he asked if the garbage pail where I threw up, if it was still there, because it was going to smell later.”
It should come as no surprise then that today outside JFK8, workers and activists are planning to protest at 5 pm ET. Like the groundbreaking walk-out at a Minnesota fulfillment center last year, it’s planned around a shift change. Their demands are modest: increasing breaks from 15 to 30 minutes, and securing more reliable transit from the Staten Island Ferry (which connects the burough to the rest of New York City) to their fairly remote workplace of Matrix Global Logistics Park. The same current employee, who hired a babysitter to attend today’s rally and who risks retaliation from management for appearing there said simply, “I’m hoping to get Amazon to at least come to the table.”
Update, 11/25 1:44pm Eastern: An Amazon spokesperson declined to respond to our specific questions, and provided a general statement instead.
“It’s inaccurate to say that Amazon fulfillment centers are unsafe,” the statement reads, “and efforts to paint our workplace as such based solely on the number of injury recordings is misleading given the size of our workforce.” OSHA’s calculation for incident rates takes a facility’s total hours worked into account specifically to address the issue of comparing varying staff sizes.
The statement continues: “We believe so strongly in the environment that we offer for fulfillment center employees, including our safety culture, that we offer public tours where anyone can come for themselves one of our sites firsthand. Ensuring the safety of associates in our building is our number one priority and we invest heavily in safety. Operational meetings, new hire orientation, process training and new process development begin with safety and have safety metrics and audits integrated within each program. Safety training is constant, both in making sure employees know how best to work with the technology in the facility and also how to prevent injuries.”
Although businesses in specific industries, like warehousing, are legally obligated to record injuries and illnesses that rise to specific levels of severity as defined by OSHA , the spokesperson added that, “There’s a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry – we recognized this in 2016 and began to take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small.”
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