Immediately following a report thatÂ Amazonâs workplace injury rates were significantly higher than those of its top rivals, the online retail giantÂ announced a tweakÂ to its notorious âtime off taskâÂ metric, which workers and advocates say is responsible for the punishing pace that leads to many injuries.Â The Washington PostÂ looked at Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data and foundÂ that Amazon warehouses have a rate of 5.9 serious injury incidentsÂ per 100 workers, which is nearly double the rate ofÂ other retail warehousesÂ and more than double the rate for Walmart warehouses. ThisÂ despite a decrease in serious injury rates at Amazon warehouses after the company paused performance tracking to allow workers time to wash their hands and sanitize work areas during the pandemic.
In response to the Postâs questions, Amazon detailed an array of efforts to improve injury rates at its warehouses, including âergonomics programs, guided exercises at employeesâ workstations, mechanical assistance equipment, workstation setup and design, and forklift telematics and guardrailsâto name a few,â a company spokeswoman told the newspaper. What those efforts notably did not include was relaxing the speed requirements placed on workers that lead to so many of those injuries, at least outside of pandemic safety measures.
But on Tuesday, via a blog post by Dave Clark, CEO of its worldwide consumer division, the company made two announcements clearly designed to garner good publicity: It will stop testing employees for marijuana except for those in positions regulated by the Department of Transportation and will support federal marijuana legalization, and itâs changing how âtime off taskâ is calculated. The time off task metric âcan easily be misunderstood,â Clark claimed, insisting that its primary goal âis to understand whether there are issues with the tools that people use to be productive, and only secondarily to identify under-performing employees.â
This is not how Amazon employees experience that, and in any case, constantly finding ways to make the âtools that people use to be productiveâ go faster is another way to make the workers go faster. âStarting today,â Clark announced, âweâre now averaging Time off Task over a longer period to ensure that thereâs more signal and less noiseâreinforcing the original intent of the program, and focusing Time off Task conversations on how we can help.â
Thatâs not a big enough change, said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, in a statement: âAfter months of intense worker activity at Amazon workplaces everywhere, the giant tech is acknowledging that it must at least tweak its management system to soften the blow on workers who have the occasional âbad dayâ. But the basic system remains the same. This small step is welcomed but insufficient. What workers need is a real seat at the table and their voices heard.â
Letâs circle back to the top of this post and remember, weâre talking about a business with a serious injury rate nearly twice that of the industry as a whole and more than twice that of Walmart (which is not exactly known as a great employer). A small tweak is not going to do it.
Amazonâs injury data also points to the need for stronger government enforcement. A DuPont, Washington, Amazon warehouse sportedÂ a serious injury rate of 23.9 per 100 workers in 2020, up from an already high 7.2 serious incidents per 100 workers in 2017. For those conditions, Amazon was cited byÂ Washington Stateâs Department of Labor and Industries, which specifically identified the following:Â âThere is a direct connection between Amazonâs employee monitoring and discipline systems and workplace MSDs [musculoskeletal disorders].â But the fine was just $7,000. Why would Amazon take the need for change seriously if thatâs how much it costs? Instead, the company is trying to deal with its high injury rates as a public relations problem by announcing the smallest possible change to its policy.Â
This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 2, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
About the author:Â Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.