Amazon Safety Citation Underscores the Importance of Ergonomics in Workplace Safety

Concerns over industrial workplace safety are top of mind after Amazon was cited by OSHA last month for failing to keep warehouse workers safe. Inspections at multiple warehouse facilities resulted in the e-commerce giant receiving hazard alert letters for exposing workers to ergonomic risks. 

OSHA investigators found Amazon warehouse workers at high risk for lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders related to:

  • the high frequency with which workers are required to lift packages and other items
  • the heavy weight of the items
  • awkward postures, such as twisting, bending and long reaches while lifting
  • long hours required to complete assigned tasks

A review of on-site injury logs revealed that warehouse workers experienced high rates of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Putting Safety First

Employers are required, by law, to provide workplaces that are safe and free from hazards that are likely to cause serious physical harm or death to workers. There are real consequences for  failing to do so – Amazon faces a total of $60,269 in proposed penalties for violating the OSH Act’s general duty clause, which requires safe workplaces. 

While OSHA fines for the types of safety violations that can cause back injuries, fractures, or sprains have been historically low, the recent Amazon fines were the highest possible for every violation cited. 

In industrial work environments – where speed is often valued over safety – employers that prioritize the safety and well-being of their frontline workforce, and take measures to protect employees from injury, can save on the indirect costs of workplace injuries (including costly fines), as well as direct costs (employers pay over $1 billion each week in direct workers’ compensation costs!). 

“Our hope is that the findings of our investigations inspire Amazon and other warehouses to make the safety and health of their workers a core value,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker in a press release.

Reducing Ergonomic Risk

OSHA’s recent Amazon investigation is thought to be the agency’s first to require the company to implement basic ergonomic principles to prevent injury. Ergonomics:

  • helps lessen muscle fatigue
  • increases productivity 
  • reduces the number and severity of work-related MSDs

According to OSHA, implementing an ergonomic process is effective in reducing the risk of developing MSDs in high-risk industries ranging from healthcare to transportation to warehousing

Employers should consider the following when implementing an ergonomic process:

  • Require Full Team Involvement – The entire team needs to be involved for a successful ergonomic process. Management should set and clearly communicate goals and objectives. And workers should be directly involved in identifying hazards and developing and implementing safety solutions. 
  • Provide Worker Training –  Employers should educate workers on the benefits of ergonomics and inform them of ergonomic-related workplace concerns.
  • Identify Potential Problems – Determining and understanding what ergonomic problems exist in the workplace can help employers and employees take action to prevent MSDs before they happen.
  • Encourage Early Reporting – When MSD symptoms are reported early on, improvements can be made to help keep symptoms from worsening and to prevent or reduce serious injuries that lead to lost-time claims. 
  • Implement Solutions – Employers can mitigate safety risks with a variety of ergonomic solutions that improve worker behavior and workplace design and processes, helping to prevent MSDs.
  • Monitor Progress – Procedures for evaluation and corrective action help employers to measure the effectiveness of an ergonomic process and ensure continuous improvement.

An Ergonomic Solution for the Warehousing Industry

Amazon isn’t the only company managing workplace safety challenges among its warehouse workforce – industry-wide, the injury rate among warehousing and storage workers is almost twice that of all private industries, according to a 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Every day, workers in this sector face increased productivity requirements to keep up with rapidly growing e-commerce demands. The result is often muscle strains and repetitive motion injuries.

Strain and sprain claims happen 42% of the time in this sector and are a leading loss driver, representing 41% of all claims costs. 

Wearable technology is an effective ergonomic safety solution for this industry. It can reduce awkward postures, such as the ‘twisting, bending and long reaches while lifting’ that were identified among Amazon warehouse workers by OSHA investigators. Reducing these risky movements, which are common among warehouse workers, can help prevent workplace injuries before they happen. 

Here’s how:

  • Wearables measure and help to improve posture in real-time.
  • The device alerts a worker when they’re bending or twisting improperly, or overextending their spine, so they can correct the risky behavior and create new habits before developing an MSD-related injury.
  • As workers reduce the frequency of awkward postures, over time, workplace injury rates decrease.

A wearable platform helps companies optimize their ergonomic process with innovative tech that protects their workforce, helps them avoid safety violations and enhances their bottom line. Companies can reduce the risk of workplace strain and sprain injuries by as much as 60% with wearables. In turn, they reduce workers’ comp claims and even improve experience modification ratings, resulting in workers’ comp premium savings.

Case Study: Iron Mountain

Learn how leading storage and information management company Iron Mountain 
reduced injuries among warehouse associates and drivers by 64% and 
reduced their cost of workers’ compensation claims by 58% 
with wearable technology!