An investigation has been launched into two fatal accidents at Amazon distribution center facilities within six months of each other. The U.S. Department of Labor, specifically the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is currently working in Carlisle, Pennsylvania after an incident on June 1.
Jody Rhoads, a 52-year-old employee of Amazon, was killed while operating a motorized jack for moving pallets. The equipment crashed into shelving, pinning Rhoads underneath. The Cumberland County coroner determined that “multiple traumatic injuries” contributed to her death. Rhoads was a widow who survived a bout with breast cancer. She had two sons and four grandchildren. An Amazon spokesperson has stated that their prayers go out to Jody Rhoads’ family. They have also agreed to fully cooperate with the investigation by OSHA. The company also said that they are taking these incidents seriously, because any accident is one too many.
The other fatal occurrence happened on December 4, 2013. Ronald Smith, a 57-year-old employee of Amazon, but considered temporarily staffed by Abacus Staffing, was killed when he was dragged and then crushed on a conveyor belt. Though he survived the initial incident, he later died at the hospital. Smith had four children and seven grandchildren.
This sorting facility, though owned by Amazon, was managed by Genco, a logistics company based in Pittsburgh that contracts with Amazon. Located in Avenel, New Jersey, that facility was also investigated for safety issues by OSHA. Five companies were given citations for various violations relating to Smith’s death. Strangely, Amazon is not one of the cited companies.
At the time of the accident, OSHA made a statement clarifying that host employers and temporary staff agencies are all jointly responsible regarding the health and safety of temporary employees. Employers are obligated to determine and ensure that employees, whether temporary or permanent, are protected from job hazards.
More recently, however, OSHA seems to have changed their mind on who exactly is responsible. When asked why Amazon was not cited, after some delay on Friday, the agency said that Genco was responsible for health and safety training and hiring. Abacus, Corporate Resource Services, Staffmark and Remedy Intelligent Staffing were also found to be responsible. According to OSHA, the temporary staffing agencies all failed to inspect the facility for hazards prior to hiring workers.
The fines levied against the companies are $6,000 each. This represents the failure on the part of each agency to perform assessments of potential hazards in the building. Genco will pay the same fine for not going through the process of confirmation of assessments being completed. When asked why the fines were not higher, OSHA explained that they do not have the power to assess more than what the law allows for these types of violations.
Amazon’s fulfillment centers are literally hubs, employing hundreds of people. Not only are orders shipped out, but there is also receiving going on as well. There has already been issued raised about the work conditions and the way staff are treated at these vital facilities. Stress levels are high, every moment of performance is measured and psychological games, like setting goals for employees that are unreasonable in order to instill insecurity, are implemented. Conditions like these could easily lead to a fatality now and again. Unfortunately, an OSHA investigation is not going to uncover psychological trauma at fulfillment centers as causes for the two fatal accidents that have occurred recently on Amazon’s watch.
By Stacy Lamy