Lending political muscle to the concerning data acquired by Reveal and Gizmodo about abnormally high rates of workplace injuries at Amazon facilities, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ilhan Omar last month made a small request of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: injury data for all of the company’s U.S.-based warehouses.
That request was sent on December 19 of last year, and so far OSHA has produced precisely zero records.
According to a representative from Sanders’ office, follow-ups were sent by the senator on January 7 and January 16. The only contact they’ve received from OSHA, they said, has been a notification that their point of contact had been transferred elsewhere. Because these records are stored digitally, Sanders’s office believes compiling them should, on OSHA’s part, require a trivial amount of time and effort. In an email to Gizmodo, OSHA claimed the letter is under review.
The forms in question—300, 300a, and 301—are legally required for employers to file with the agency in the event of certain workplace illness and injury. That this illness and injury data is tracked by the company itself and are well above industry average for warehousing makes prior Amazon statements daring reporters and their readership to bring children as young as six on tours of their facilities (“It’s that safe”) all the more alarming. Forms 300, 300a, and 301, however, are not public. In both Gizmodo and Reveal’s reports, the data came from requests made by current or former Amazon workers, which is their legal right to do.
Amazon, for its part, says reports of injuries endured at its warehouses are misleading. “It’s inaccurate to say that Amazon fulfillment centers are unsafe,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement in November, “and efforts to paint our workplace as such based solely on the number of injury recordings is misleading given the size of our workforce.” The company also suggested that “a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry” compared to Amazon’s “aggressive” recording of injuries made it look worse than it is.
While all employers are required to fulfill worker requests for OSHA 300 logs within two business days, Reveal’s reporting indicated that Amazon, on several occasions, “either ignored these employee requests or provided only partial records, in apparent violation of federal regulations.” OSHA is similarly obligated to provide records requested by some government representatives in some scenarios; members of Congress, in this instance, do not meet that specific standard. When asked if any law specifically prohibited OSHA from complying with Sanders and Omar’s request, however, the agency declined to respond.
Realistically, injury data for individual employers should be public information, if only so that American workers can make informed choices about who to take a job with. That the acquisition of such information requires either an active investigation by the Secretary of Labor or for one to have already signed employment paperwork is transparently ridiculous, though that’s a policy argument for another time.
“From the hundreds of stories shared by workers with my office to countless media reports of injury and death, it is clear the American people cannot trust Jeff Bezos to operate safe warehouses. If OSHA is doing its job—by monitoring for and protecting against potential workplace abuse—it should have no problem providing the requested information,” Sanders’s office told Gizmodo over email. “We look forward to working with the agency and others to ensure the health and safety of workers at Amazon.”