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Supply Chain News: Amazon Expanding Program to Reduce Injuries among Fulfillment Center Workers


WorkingWell includes Safety Huddles, Meditation Stations, 30 to 60 Second Stretching Breaks

May 6, 2021
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Amazon, often the target of criticisms from workers’ rights organizations and others relative to workplace practices at its fulfillment centers, announced two weeks ago that it was expanding a program targeting a reduction workplace injuries.

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Experts say stretching is a key to injury prevention, though most common workplace programs that are successful dedicate sessions of at least five minutes, multiple times a shift.

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Amazon said WorkingWell, a program that provides employees with physical, mental and nutritional support, along with other wellness services, will be rolled out across its entire US operations network by the end of 2021.

The goal: reduce recordable incident rates - an OSHA measurement of worker injury and illness - by 50% by 2025.

In October 2020, an outfit called Reveal - The Center for Investigative Reporting published a report alleging high levels of serious injuries among Amazon fulfillment center workers.

The report from what appeared to be a left-leaning organization said that Amazon had 7.7 serious injuries per 100 workers at its fulfillment centers Amazon in 2019.

That rate, if accurate, would be nearly double the most recent industry average, according to Reveal.

The report said Amazon’s injury rate at its FC was continuing to rise since 2016, while overall injury rates nationally at distribution centers has been flat over the same period.

Reveal also alleged that Amazon may also be underreporting warehouse worker injuries.

At the time, Amazon said in a statement that it "strongly refutes the claims" that it misled the public on its workplace injury rates. The company disputed Reveal's characterization of "serious injuries," which under OSHA reporting can include almost anything, Amazon said.

Amazon recorded 5.6 injuries of all reported types per 100 workers in 2019, the last full year of data, compared with the 4.8 rate nationally for the warehousing and storage sector, according to company and federal workplace data. While Amazon’s rates is higher, it is much less of a delta than the Reveal data claims.

But now the wellness program expansion. WorkingWell was first piloted in 2019 and has already been rolled out to some 860,000 employees at 350 FCs in North America and Europe.

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An Amazon executive says it has never offered all of the program components at all sites, and it hopes to reach 1,000 sites by the end of 2021, and after that, extend to Europe (where there are now pilot sites).

About 40% of work-related injuries at Amazon are what termed MSDs, which include sprains or strains caused by repetitive motions. Amazon says that the program where implemented helped decrease MSD-related injuries by 32% from 2019 to 2020.

Elements being added to all US sites include daily meetings for operations leaders and small groups of employees near work stations so they can watch short interactive videos on topics like gripping and handling, pushing and pulling, and nutrition. Amazon refers to these short sessions as “Health & Safety Huddles.”

In addition, depending on their roles, FC workers also are given hourly prompts at their stations that guide them through various stretching and breathing exercises. Amazon said the prompted exercise breaks can last from 30 seconds to a minute each – all surely closely monitored by Amazon.

Amazon is also installing kiosks where employees can watch videos that show guided meditations and calming scenes and sounds. New wellness zones provide dedicated spaces for workers to stretch or meditate – though it’s now clear how that opportunity works.

Experts say stretching is a key to injury prevention, though most common workplace programs that are successful dedicate sessions of at least five minutes, multiple times a shift.

Jack Dennerlein, a professor at Northeastern University whose research has focused on musculoskeletal disorders, told the Wall Street Journal that introducing educational tools in workplaces is rarely sufficient to substantially reduce injuries. Measures that provide mechanical lifts or reconfigure how a workplace is organized have a bigger impact, he added.

“It should be fitting the job to the human, not fitting the human to the job,” Dennerlein said.

Some of the technology-driven ideas to prevent injuries Amazon discussed include algorithms that can rotate employees through jobs. This tactic will continued to be used in a pilot phase but is not part of this full program yet.

Amazon is also looking at sensors that can measures risk exposure to MSDs.


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




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