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Supply Chain News: Already under Fire for Labor Standards, Injuries, Amazon Now Scrutinized for Hazardous Substance Handling



“You put on this Suit, you put on these Gloves, and then you Clean it Up”

Dec. 5, 2023


SCDigest Editorial Staff

Amazon has come intense scrutiny for many years for practices related to worker safety in its fulfillment centers, including claims it sets impossible-to-meet productivity standards. Workers rights group have also targeted Amazon for its safety track record, with one study finding injury rates at some Amazon FCS running nearly twice as high as average distribution centers in the US. (See Studies Say Injuries at Amazon FCs are Much Higher than Average.)

Supply Chain Digest Says...

One L&I report also said there appears to be a disconnect between management and employees” on how safety and health policies are communicated and applied.

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Amazon has challenged all the critics, arguing its standards are fair, the comparisons to others are misleading, that it is highly focused on safety, and that its numbers are improving, in part due to adoption automation.

Now, Amazon is facing allegations it is putting its FC workers at risk from the way is manages handling of chemicals and other hazardous materials in its facilities designated to hold and ship some products.

An article Monday in Amazon’s hometown newspaper The Seattle Times claims workers handling such products often “feel unsafe,” due to how the work gets down and a lack of training.

Last January, inspectors from Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) cited Amazon’s Spokane FC for failing to properly train workers on how to handle hazardous chemicals or ensure employees wore appropriate eye protection, according to a previously unpublicized citation.

There were about seven recent complaints from Amazon workers regarding hazardous chemicals handling at facilities in the company’s home state, found through a public records request from the Times.

The Times also reports that Amazon disputes the claims, stating that all front-line FC workers receive safety training that includes information on chemicals and how to read labels. It also says only trained employees clean up chemical spills.

Amazon has appealed L&I’s citation.

Company spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel told the Times that. “The fact is, we have protocols and procedures in place to reduce risks associated with hazardous materials, and our employees receive annual training on how to identify and properly handle chemicals and similar products.”

Amazon worker Ellie Zingg disagrees. She says that at 4 AM more than a year ago, she noticed jug of mold remover was leaking on an Amazon shelf.

Expecting someone trained on hazardous materials would come to deal with the leaking container, Zingg was surprised when her manager gave her the job.

(See More Below)





“I told them I’m not trained for this,” told the Times in a recent interview. “They said, ‘You put on this suit, you put on these gloves, and then you clean it up.’”

The chemicals in Amazon’s FCs include pesticides, cleaning products and even some shampoos. Those items can leak through their packaging and become a hazard.

The state L&I citation claims Amazon workers who handled hazardous chemicals were not effectively trained on how to identify the materials they were handling or the risks they posed, according to the Times. One worker told the department they determined if a chemical was hazardous based on the “glare or shimmer” of the container. Another said they went by smell; if they got nauseous, they assumed it was hazardous.

The state government investigation found potential holes in Amazon process for handing hazardous material items that may be leaking. Speed, not safety, was often the key consideration, L&I inspectors found.

However, in one investigation, L&I found managers at a Spokane-area FC were “committed to providing a safe and healthy working environment,” according to notes from the citation.

But one L&I report also said there appears to be a disconnect between management and employees” on how safety and health policies are communicated and applied.

At Amazon and other distribution operations, this is sure to be a growing workplace issue.

Do you have any thoughts on the Hazardous materials handing in DCs? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below (email) or in the Feedback section.




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