Amazon has been cited a second time for alleged workplace violations at a facility in Waukegan, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday.
The agency said its investigators found Amazon warehouse workers, including in Waukegan, were at high risk for low back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders linked to the frequency with which they are required to lift heavy items, including packages. In December, Amazon was cited by OSHA for allegedly failing to properly record serious injuries at the same Waukegan facility in addition to five other facilities around the country.
In a phone call with reporters Wednesday, OSHA Assistant Secretary Doug Parker said Amazon workers experienced damage to muscles, nerves, tendons and joints brought on by “sudden and repetitive movements over time.” Musculoskeletal injuries like the kind suffered by Amazon workers included low back disorders, damage to the spinal disc, and hip, shoulder and hand injuries, Parker said.
In addition to the citation in Waukegan, which OSHA classified as “serious,” Amazon was cited for similar alleged violations at two facilities in Florida and New York. Investigations are ongoing at other warehouses in Colorado, Idaho and New York.
OSHA fined Amazon $15,625 for alleged violations in Waukegan, the maximum penalty allowed, Parker said.
OSHA also issued what is called a “hazard letter” for the Waukegan facility, which alleges workers were injured after being hit by items heavier than 50 pounds. A hazard letter is not a citation, and does not come with proposed penalties.
In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company “strongly” disagreed with the allegations and planned to appeal.
“The vast majority of our employees tell us they feel our workplace is safe,” Nantel said in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to sharing more during our appeal about the numerous safety innovations, process improvements, and investments we’re making to further reduce injuries.”
OSHA said reviews of injury logs at Amazon facilities revealed high rates of musculoskeletal disorders among Amazon workers. In 2021, the industrywide rate of injuries requiring warehouse workers to take time away from work, submit to work restrictions or transfer to lighter duties was 4.7 injuries for every 100 workers, Parker said.
Amazon’s average was almost double the national average, at nine such injuries per 100 workers, OSHA said. The Waukegan facility saw a rate of 8.5 injuries per 100 workers. The Florida facility cited had a rate of 15 such injuries per 100 workers, and the New York facility had a rate of 14.7 per 100, the agency said.
In December, OSHA cited Amazon for allegedly failing to properly record injuries at the same Waukegan facility. The agency alleged Amazon misclassified certain injuries as not requiring time off work or a job transfer or restriction in cases in which they did so. In one case, the company misclassified a Waukegan worker’s head injury as a muscle strain, the agency said at the time.
Amazon has appealed the record keeping citations and said it has never intentionally misrepresented its safety record.
Parker said Wednesday the record keeping investigation was ongoing. “I can’t say a lot about the record keeping violations except to say that we’re always very concerned when we find that record keeping is incomplete,” he said.
OSHA first opened the inspections into Amazon warehouses last summer after referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
In a statement Wednesday, the SDNY said its civil division was investigating whether Amazon had “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to hide the true number of injuries” at Amazon and whether the company had “made false representations to lenders about those injuries and its safety record to obtain credit.”