Concerns over safety at Amazon warehouses as accident reports rise

Rob Davies
Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

More than 600 Amazon workers have been seriously injured or narrowly escaped an accident in the past three years, prompting calls for a parliamentary inquiry into safety at the online retailer’s vast UK warehouses.

Amazon, whose largest shareholder is the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, recently launched an advertising campaign fronted by contented staff members, after a string of embarrassing revelations about working conditions.

But new figures obtained by the GMB trade union under the Freedom of Information Act suggest safety at its more than 50 UK warehouses has not improved, and may be worsening.

Local authorities have received 622 accident reports involving Amazon warehouses over the past three years. The annual total has risen from 152 in 2016-17 to 230 the following year and 240 last year.

In one case, a self-employed contractor at a London warehouse lost consciousness and appeared to stop breathing following a head injury, having attempted to restart work.

The accident investigation report found that sorting baskets had been overfilled and that “the main root cause of this incident was failing to provide a safe working environment”.

A report covering an incident in 2015, before the period covered by the figures, concluded that a lapse of concentration due to “long working hours” was behind an incident in which a forklift truck driver reversed into a steel structure, bringing some of it down.

Internal emails from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that the accident was reported by an Amazon worker who would not give their name because they were “worried about getting sacked”.

Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan and a Labour leadership contender, called for an investigation into Amazon. She said: “The warehouse injuries suffered by Amazon workers are beyond appalling. I stand ready, if and when Amazon’s workers take strike action and protest, I will be there with them.

“The Tories need to start taking workers’ rights seriously and standing up to businesses like Amazon. I call on an urgent investigation – workers simply cannot wait for their conditions to improve.”

Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington, said: “In my 30 years in the world of work I cannot remember any company clock up so many injuries to its workers.

“I have been inside the giant Rugeley depot and heard first-hand from frightened workers of the 77 serious incidents in Rugeley alone.

“Amazon purports to be a 21st century company. It behaves like a 19th century mill-owner. [Its] owner, the American billionaire, Jeff Bezos, should be called to account by parliament for his actions.

“How can he or Amazon justify refusing to talk to their workers’ union, the GMB, on safety? Their behaviour is disgraceful.”

The GMB said the escalation in the number of accidents and near-misses demonstrated the need for parliament to investigate the online retailer.

Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Amazon are spending millions on PR campaigns trying to persuade people its warehouses are great places to work. But the facts are there for all to see – things are getting worse.

“Hundreds of stricken Amazon workers are needing urgent medical attention. Conditions are hellish.

“We’ve tried over and over again to get Amazon to talk to us to try and improve safety for workers. But enough is enough – it’s now time for a full parliamentary inquiry.”

Amazon became the second company in the world to be valued by Wall Street at $1tn, while its founder Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man with an estimated net worth of $137bn (£104tn).

But the company has been dogged by allegations that its success is founded on the backs of workers enduring poor safety and low pay, leading to claims that Scottish staff resorted to living in tents to cut commuting costs.

Bezos is paying $165m for a house in the exclusive Beverly Hills area of Los Angeles, according to the Wall Street Journal, more than Amazon is due to pay in US federal taxes in 2019.

An Amazon spokesman said: “Amazon is a safe place to work. Yet again, our critics seem determined to paint a false picture of what it’s like to work for Amazon. They repeat the same sensationalised allegations time and time again.

“Our doors are open to the public, to politicians, and indeed to anyone who truly wants to see the modern, innovate and, most importantly, safe environment we provide to our people. The fact is we benchmark against UK national data, published by the Health & Safety Executive, confirming we have over 40% fewer injuries on average than other transportation and warehousing businesses in the UK.”