STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What is the human cost of Amazon’s convenience? The company delivers products from its warehouses to your door in days or even hours. Investigative reporters have found that drive for speed leaves Amazon warehouse employees with chronic pain and crippling injuries. They suffer serious injuries at more than double the industry average. We will tell you now that Amazon is a financial supporter of NPR News, and we are raising these questions about Amazon all the same, which is how it should work. The investigation came from the Center for Investigative Reporting, which publishes the program Reveal. Will Evans is one of the reporters leading this coverage. He joins us via Skype. Good morning.
WILL EVANS: Good morning.
INSKEEP: I want to work through one case that you examined here in a warehouse in Indiana. What happened there?
EVANS: So there’s a worker named Phillip Lee Terry. He’s a 59-year-old grandfather. He was working on a forklift and when the – it fell on him, basically, and crushed him to death. There was a Indiana OSHA inspector who came in to investigate the death and found that there were some serious safety lapses.
INSKEEP: OSHA – that’s for workplace safety. Now, when you talk about safety lapses, is that connected, in some way, to the drive to fulfill orders quickly?
EVANS: Well, we found broadly that the drive to fulfill orders quickly is injuring, you know, hundreds, thousands of workers at a very – at very high injury rates. In this particular case, the problem seemed to be that he wasn’t properly trained. That’s what the OSHA inspector said. That’s what some of the other workers there said. And it was interesting, that case, because Indiana was, at the same time, bidding for Amazon’s second headquarters to come to the state. And the inspector said he got political pressure to back off – to back off the case. And in the end, Indiana ended up deleting the safety citations.
INSKEEP: Wow. OK. So we have so much money on the line that it is difficult to look into this. What is it about the nature of fulfilling orders quickly in an Amazon warehouse that gets people hurt?
EVANS: So the workers are held to these very high production quotas, processing hundreds of items an hour for up to 12-hour shifts. They know that if they don’t keep up, they can be fired. And so they’re basically sacrificing their bodies either through repetitive stress injuries or strains and sprains. The speed is – seems to be the key element. And the safety – the former safety managers at Amazon that we talked to said they basically can’t protect the workers when the production demands are so high.
INSKEEP: Let’s listen to one worker, Candice Dixon, who had a job in Southern California.
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CANDICE DIXON: For Amazon, all they care about is getting the job done and getting it out fast and not realizing how it it’s affecting us and our own bodies.
INSKEEP: Aren’t Amazon warehouses, though, supposed to have the very latest technology – robots to help retrieve packages, things that are supposed to make this a much easier job?
EVANS: Yeah. It’s interesting. The robots bring the package and bring the items to the workers, so the workers don’t have to walk around for miles to find things. But because that’s so efficient and the robots are so fast, the workers are held to much higher production quotas. So they have to go faster and faster. And as one former safety manager told me, humans are basically tapping out. They can’t keep up.
INSKEEP: They’re trying to turn people into robots, and they can’t quite do it.
EVANS: That’s right.
INSKEEP: Mr. Evans, thank you so much.
EVANS: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: Will Evans is a reporter for the Reveal team at the Center for Investigative Reporting.
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