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Amazon warehouses under OSHA investigation for 2 workplace deaths

Since its creation, Amazon has become the dominant force in Internet retail through its aggressively competitive approach to all aspects of its business. In approaching business this way, the company’s leadership has stepped on more than a few toes. As just one example, most brick-and-mortar stores cannot compete with Amazon’s prices, which it offers by keeping razor-thin profit margins.

More disturbing than its financial approach, however, are allegations over the working conditions at Amazon’s many warehouses located around the country, including two “fulfillment centers” here in South Carolina. In fact, it was announced earlier this month that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been investigating two workplace fatalities which occurred in Amazon warehouses in the last year.

The most recent death happened earlier this month in a Pennsylvania fulfillment center. According to news sources, a 52-year-old woman died of multiple blunt-force injuries after the motorized pallet jack she was operating crashed into some shelving.

The earlier death occurred last December at a New Jersey warehouse. Amazon is so busy during the holiday season that it hired 70,000 temp workers in late 2013 alone. The 57-year-old man who was killed had been hired by a temporary staffing agency contracting with Amazon. As the man was sorting items, he somehow became caught on a conveyor belt. He suffered serious injuries as a result of being dragged and he died at the hospital.

In the recent past, Amazon has faced other complaints concerning unsafe working conditions, including dangerously hot temperatures in its warehouses during the summer months. In at least some of these cases, the warehouses are not air conditioned and doors are kept closed to prevent employee theft.

Amazon may be convenient and inexpensive for consumers, but these benefits seem to come at the cost of worker safety. In the end, that’s a cost none of us should be willing to pay.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Two deaths at Amazon warehouses being investigated by OSHA," Carolyn Kellogg, June 16, 2014

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