Amazon’s ‘Safe’ New Robot Won’t Fix its Worker Injury Problem


The introduction of Proteus comes 10 years after Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva Systems, which became Amazon Robotics. Kiva robots carry up to 1,000 pounds of customer orders from storage to human collectors, but operate in a part of the warehouse where humans cannot go.

The director of health and safety at the Center for Strategic Organization, Eric Frumin, says Amazon’s promotion of a new robot that avoids bumping into people is a distraction from the leading causes of injuries at its facilities.

“Amazon has a fabulous ability to create new and more glamorous dangers for workers,” says Frumin. “Maybe this robot will have a new threat to workers, but I’m more concerned about the company’s total blindness to the dangers they face.” He says these hazards include requiring workers to make quick, repetitive movements that cause injury – for example, when trucks are loaded from the floor to the roof or hand pallet trucks are used.

Frumin co-authored the Center for Strategic Organization Analysis of Amazon’s Presentations with OSHA, published in April. He noted that since 2017 the only annual decrease in the company’s occupational injury rates took place in 2020, when it temporarily reduced worker quotas as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report found that injury rates rose 20 percent in 2021. It also found that while Amazon employs one in three warehouse employees in the United States, half of all worker injuries of the warehouse were produced at facilities managed by the company. About 90 percent of injuries at Amazon were serious enough for people to get lost at work or rendered unable to perform regular work duties.

In March this year, following inspections of Amazon’s warehouses in the company’s home state, Washington, state regulators fined the company $ 60,000 for “deliberate and serious violation” of the rules. safety that could result in injury to the back and upper extremities.

Proteus was unveiled last month at Amazon’s re: MARS conference along with another technology that, according to the company, will improve the safety of warehouse workers. A camera system called AR ID can automatically identify packages without workers having a barcode scanner. A robot called Cardinal collects packages of up to 50 pounds, and another, formerly known as Ernie, places objects in containers to store them, a task performed by people who have to climb stairs repeatedly to place objects in carts. high.

Debbie Berkowitz, senior policy advisor and chief of staff at OSHA during the Obama administration, says Amazon significantly expanded the use of robots in its stores during the Trump administration, when federal officials did not respond. to reports of high injury rates. “Essentially, no one was watching when this happened,” says Berkowitz, who in the 1980s and 1990s worked as a safety director for the United Trade and Food Workers Union, negotiating with companies that operate supermarket warehouses.

“In the end, I think robots will only do better for consumers and worse for workers, who will work harder and faster,” Berkowitz says. She believes Amazon did not take into account the natural variability in human body size at the beginning of its expansion, resulting in higher rates of musculoskeletal injuries of workers making very repetitive but blunt movements.

Amazon’s Brady told WIRED that the company is looking for opportunities to reduce repetitive tasks and lift weights to reduce musculoskeletal injuries. “Every time there’s an incident,” he says, “we look at it very closely and ask ourselves,‘ How can we improve the system so that this doesn’t happen again? ’Last month Amazon pledged to reduce musculoskeletal risk. injuries 25 percent in 2025.

Berkowitz says that if Amazon gave him control of worker safety in their stores, he would hire ergonomics experts to visit all of Amazon’s delivery centers and meet with workers, review injury records, find out what jobs they have. the highest reports of pain and begin to consider the design. changes to better protect these workers. “They could really be a leader here.”



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