Advertisement
This story is over 5 years old
News by VICE

OSHA Cites Contractors After Amazon Warehouse Worker's Death

The temporary worker, Ronald Smith, died after being caught in a conveyor system and crushed by equipment in a warehouse in Avenel, N.J.

by Jordan Larson
Jun 16 2014, 8:30pm

Photo via AP

Following the death of a temp worker in an Amazon warehouse last December, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cited five companies for serious violations, including the warehouse contractor, Genco, and four temporary staffing agencies.

The temporary worker, Ronald Smith, died after being caught in a conveyor system and crushed by equipment in a warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey.

The citations were issued following an investigation by OSHA, which has recently launched an initiative to increase temp workers’ safety and health.

Each of the five companies face a $6,000 fine and must respond to the citations within 15 days. Though Amazon owns the warehouse in which the death occurred, it was not cited for a violation because it was not responsible for managing the warehouse or supervising employees.

"Any accident that occurs in a facility is one too many and we take these matters seriously," Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said in a statement to VICE News.

Genco did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

According to the DOL news release, the five companies were cited “for not certifying that a hazard assessment of the facility had been conducted before assigning employees to work. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

The other companies cited are located in California, Maryland, New York and Ohio.

The news release also cites preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, which shows that "fatal work injuries involving contractor worker fatalities, including temporary help service workers," made up 16 percent of the 4,383 fatal work injuries in 2012.

OSHA is also investigating the June 1 death of 52-year-old Jody Rhoads, who died of “multiple traumatic injuries” in an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania after crashing a pallet truck into shelves, according to the news release. Amazon officials said this facility was not managed by a third party, but by Amazon itself.

Temp Workers and the Modern Day 'Harvest of Shame.' Read more here.

These are not the first worker deaths that have occurred at an Amazon warehouse — a Nevada worker was killed just last November when a forklift fell on him — and this is not the first time OSHA has investigated conditions in Amazon warehouses. In 2011, the agency began an investigation into a Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania warehouse following complaints of extreme heat.

Workers alleged that they were forced to work even when temperatures in the warehouse exceeded 110 degrees, and that they were penalized for leaving work due to heat-related symptoms.

Conditions in Amazon warehouses in Europe have also come under scrutiny, with workers alleging harassment and slave-like conditions, as reported by the Financial Times.

Early last year, Germany’s Employment Ministry launched an investigation into warehouse conditions following a documentary which showed Amazon temp workers during the winter holiday months having their rooms searched and being regularly frisked and surveilled.

Again, Amazon was largely left out of the investigation, with the employment agencies and a private security firm bearing the brunt of the inquiry.

Follow Jordan Larson on Twitter: @jalarsonist