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Employment

Amazon warehouse injuries spike in run-up to key shopping dates, study finds

A new study by GMB union shows ambulance call-outs to Amazon warehouses rises before important sales dates.

Injuries recorded at Amazon warehouses increase dramatically in the run-up to key shopping dates such as Amazon Prime Day in summer, Black Friday in late November and Christmas, a new study has revealed.

An analysis of ambulance call-outs to Amazon warehouses shows a spike before important sales dates, according to the GMB union, which it said proved the “inhumanity of working conditions” for the company’s employees.

The report is based on a monthly breakdown of ambulance call-outs between 2017 and 2019 from three ambulance trusts via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

During that period, call-outs to emergency services were generally steady between March and June. There was a small increase in July – when Amazon Prime Day was held in those years – which GMB believe was a result of the pressures leading up to the massive sales event.

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The figures rose sharply later in the year: the total number of ambulance callouts between October and December – covering Black Friday and the Christmas period – were almost three times larger than between April and June. There was also a small increase in February.

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Examples of worker injuries have included being knocked unconscious, electrocuted, breaking bones, and having to call emergency services due to chest pains and breathing problems. There have also been reports of heavily pregnant employees being forced to stand for hours on end, the union added.

Between 2015 and 2018, more than 600 ambulance call-outs were made to Amazon warehouses, it said.In more than half of those cases, patients were taken to hospital.

At Amazon’s Rugeley warehouse site in Staffordshire, ambulances were called 115 times – including three for women due to pregnancy or maternity reasons and three for major trauma.A similar study by the union found the number of serious injuries of near misses recorded at Amazon warehouses in the same three year period.

A previous survey of union members working at Amazon warehouses showed 87 per cent are in constant or occasional pain due to their workload.

One heavily pregnant woman said she was forced to work standing up for the entire duration of her shirt, while MPs were told in 2018 about an employee who had a miscarriage because of continuous pressure to work and hit targets.

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In June, a separate report found workers at US Amazon warehouses are injured at a higher rate than those doing similar jobs at other companies’ warehouses. Amazon workers had 5.9 serious injuries per 100 people, almost 80 per cent higher than the rest of the industry, the study showed.

The research comes as ITV News found one UK warehouse was destroying millions of pounds worth of stock every year. Undercover footage showed workers at the company’s Dunfermline warehouse sorting unsold laptops, TVs, hairdryers, Covid masks and more into boxes marked “destroy” that were then tracked to landfill sites or recycling centres.

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Earlier this year, Amazon was forced to apologise after it falsely denied reports that its employees had to urinate in plastic bottles.

The company has also faced allegations of “cutting corners” on Covid safety during the first wave of the pandemic – something it has denied. Hundreds of US Amazon staff took strike action to protest various issues around the company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including limited sick pay.

Other concerns at the time include a lack of protective equipment and poor warehouse cleaning practices.

To coincide with Prime Day on Monday, GMB has launched a digital hub for its Amazon members to report safety concerns.

Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “We know Amazon fulfilment centres are dangerous, stressful places to work at the best of times.

“In the run up to key sales events like Prime Day the inhumanity of working conditions at Amazon warehouses goes into overdrive. Workers are expected to operate like robots gone haywire, picking and packing at a furious rate to meet completely unrealistic targets.

“It’s time for the richest company in the world to invest in safety, sit down with GMB and make sure staff work in a safe environment.”

The Big Issue has contacted Amazon for comment.

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