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Supply Chain News: Amazon Inviting Reporters into Fulfillment Centers to Show Off New Safety Measures


Changes in Operations are Modest at Best, as Virus Fear Fades

June 15, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

As the coronavirus crisis broke in the US in March and expanded in the following months, Amazon came under a blizzard of scrutiny and criticism for practices some said were endangering workers.

There were anecdotal reports and occasional Amazon confirmation of infection outbreaks among FC workers, in some cases causing the facilities to be close temporarily for "deep cleaning."

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Amazon has made very modest changes in its processes, and as with lock downs and policies in other areas of society, the fear of infection seems to be fading.

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Planned walkouts by workers in a few cities in protest of working conditions relative to the virus mostly fizzled, but drew widespread media attention nevertheless.

With a lack of disclosure about infection and death data for Amazon FC workers, a group of 13 state attorney general sent a letter to Amazon calling for the company to be more transparent with its virus information and to provide state-by-state breakdown of workers who tested positive or died from the coronavirus. Amazon has ignored the request.

A local US OHSA office was said to be investigating worker safety issues relative to the virus as an Amazon FC in Pennsylvania.

Amazon made several policy changes, such as temporarily allowing associates to not come into work if they had safety concerns (though without pay). The policy ended at the end of April. It said it planned to open its own testing labs at FCs. A $2.00 per hour "hazard pay" bump was initiated in March but expired at the end of May.

It took a little while, but Amazon has launched a PR counter campaign of sorts. It started a few weeks ago, when CBS' 60 Minutes show did an interview with Amazon's SVP of Operations Dave Clark. That included a video tour of an Amazon FC and changes such as new mobile washing stations to make it easy for workers to clean their hands, and video of workers in hazmat suits spraying surfaces with a misting disinfectant. (See 60 Minutes Investigates Amazon Virus Protection for Workers in its Fulfillment Centers.)

It has also been running television ads showing its concern for mask wearing FC employees

In the last few weeks, Amazon has also been inviting journalists to come into it FCs to see all the new changes.

So the New York Times and reporter Karen Weise took Amazon up on the offer, visiting a million square foot FC in Kent, WA, not too far from Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

Recent changes noted in Times article include plexiglass barriers at the human resources area inside the FC.

There is tape on the floor throughout the FC marking six-foot increments commonly called for in terms of social distancing.

Weise says sanitizer stations are common throughout the facility, whereas they were rare previously.

(See More Below)



Now when workers enter the FC, they must pass thermal cameras that take their temperatures. They also pass a station from which face masks are provided using a long pair of tongs.

Workers can also go into a former training room to get tested for the virus, using a self-administered swab that for now is sent off site for analysis. On outside healthcare firm is on hand to supervise the process and answer questions.

Weise said the FC seems to be close to normal operations, with workers going about their usual business and the facility once again picking and shipping a full complement of products. For a while, Amazon was only shipping "essential products" such as food and cleaners.

An Amazon worker made available to Weise noted that Amazon has adjusted break times so that they are staggered and thus reduce congestion.

Workers of necessity frequently pass each other as you might people on a sidewalk, though Amazon in May said it was working on software that would attempt to keep say order pickers from getting too close to each other, even at the cost of some lost efficiency.

The Times piece did not address that topic.

The bottom line: Amazon has made very modest changes in its processes, and as with lock downs and policies in other areas of society, the fear of infection seems to be fading.

Temperature checking on arrival and tape on the floor will probably be around for the long haul, but substantial process changes that could really impact productivity do not seem to be likely.

The full Times article with many photos is available here.


What do you think Amazon's changes? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.




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