The Center for Investigative Reporting has acquired internal records for 150 of Amazon’s warehouses or ‘fulfillment centers’ over the last four years, and has found that sites with robots correlate to 50% higher rates of serious injury.
The reporting firm accuses the retailer of “bald misrepresentations”, and an intention to “hide its growing safety crisis” from the public and lawmakers alike. In response, Amazon said its numbers were high because it encouraged the reporting of even minor incidents (that’s an argument somewhat akin to Trump’s ‘we do more tests so there are more cases’, ‘tis is not).
Whether purposely misleading the masses or seeing safety numbers that inevitably result from their ever-increasing scale, Amazon continue to emphasize their “deep focus on the safety of teams”.
Robots show no sign of retreat
Amazon initially introduced robots into its warehouses after acquiring a robotics manufacturer in 2012. This year, the pandemic has given rise to a new boost in use for industrial robotics.
According to some forecasts, we could see the deployment of four million commercial robots across 50,000 warehouses in the next five years. With robotics-as-a-service emerging as a more commercially viable option, the lens has fallen both on their efficiency (as a route to longer uptimes) and the impact on the human workforce. Pickers at one Amazon warehouse, for example, said they had seen their expected number of items to handle grow from 100 to 400 an hour (to match the robot’s capabilities), or had been re-routed to workstations, stagnancy or monotonous tasks.