For many businesses, Amazon’s model is the goal. As one of the world’s largest companies, so many of their achievements and business practices are the envy of enterprises both small and large all over the planet. But behind the facade of this hugely successful company are a number of serious concerns, one of which is the treatment of employees - particularly those working in Amazon’s warehouses and distribution centres. In recent weeks and months, investigative journalists from the likes of The Guardian and Business Insider have gathered information that suggests workers are being subjected to seriously difficult working environment.
In one such example, a warehouse worker developed carpal tunnel symptoms after just a few months of working for the company. This injury involves excessive pressure on one of the main nerves to the hand from a ligament that crosses the base of the palm. Symptoms include aches, pains and tingling in the hand, and the injury is often caused by repetitive bending of the hand or tightly gripping objects. It’s likely that warehouse work was a contributory factor.
Carpal tunnel issues are not overly uncommon in the workplace, but it was Amazon’s response to this scenario that has raised calls for the company to treat its employees better.
Amazon uses an in-house clinic at its warehouses, known as Amcare, which is designed to provide staff with on-site care in the event of a problem. Unfortunately in this scenario, the individual in question was returned to work on ten occasions despite complaining of carpal tunnel symptoms.
Just a few months later, the problem progressed to the point that surgery was required, but such was the opposition, that Amazon’s insurer did not give the go-ahead for surgery for more than a year.
This case is just one of many that have been revealed recently, and it illustrates a multitude of problems, ranging from a situation in which carpal tunnel syndrome is easily caused, a poor response to workplace injury, and then a worrying response to resolving the situation. It’s no surprise that many have called for Amazon to act and improve their working conditions at distribution centres.
Most good business owners should tell you that good health and safety practice - and response when things go wrong - isn’t just about having compassion for the employee. While employers should certainly have their employees’ wellbeing near the top of their list of priorities, there is undoubtedly a business case for making sure workers are safe and giving them the time off when needed. Amazon are pushing their workers hard and aren’t always responding with the right approach.
In this example for instance, a better response to the initial problem - strain on the hand and wrists - may have ensured that there was never an issue. Or had the Amcare unit allowed the individual to rest or wear a splint, the injury may not have progressed. But instead of good workplace health and safety practice, Amazon allowed the situation to progress to the most severe point, costing it considerable money, and causing stress and financial hardship to the employee.
A spokesperson from Amazon stated
At Amazon, workplace safety is at the very heart of how we operate our fulfilment centres. And you don’t need to take our word for this. It’s borne out by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) figures which show that in fact, Amazon has over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing companies in the UK.
We have also voluntarily established a UK-wide partnership with the health and safety regulator who we work closely with to support our focus on continuous improvement and best industry practice. We are proud of our safety record and thousands of Amazonians work hard every day, innovating ways to make it even better.
At Virtual College, we’re pleased to work with companies that do place their employees’ welfare at the top of their priorities. Popular courses that we offer include the IOSH Working Safely Course, which gives a thorough overview of workplace safety, and is suitable for anyone who needs to know about how they, their colleagues or their employees can be safe at work. Click here to find out more.