Labor critics are pointing a recent string of unrelated Amazon employee deaths as further proof of the company’s exploitative and dangerous working conditions within its many warehouse centers across the country. Between July 13 and August 4, four workers died while on the clock at separate Amazon locations—three in New Jersey facilities, with a fourth at a hub in Pennsylvania. The causes of death reportedly stem from cardiac arrest that occurred on Prime Day, a forklift crash, and a head injury sustained from falling off a ladder, while the fourth fatality remains under investigation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has six months to release the results of its examinations of all four deaths.
As CNET and elsewhere report, the latest tragedies will likely only increase Amazon’s intensifying scrutiny and criticism from policymakers, advocacy groups, and the company’s own employees regarding staggering productivity quotas and brutal working conditions. Earlier in August, warehouse staff leaked photos of thermometer temperatures within storage containers reaching as high as 145-degrees Fahrenheit, while a study released earlier this year revealed Amazon workers’ onsite injury rates may be as much as double the industry average.
In December 2021, a tornado tore through an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, IL, killing 6 employees and igniting widespread criticism regarding the company’s “no cellphones” policy during facility work hours. The company later changed its rules to allow employees access to their devices while onsite.
“We’re deeply saddened by the passing of our colleagues and offer our condolences to their family and friends. Each of these tragic incidents have affected our teams greatly, and we are providing resources for families and employees who need them,” Amazon spokesman Sam Stephenson said in a statement provided to PopSci. “Our investigations are ongoing and we’re cooperating with OSHA, which is conducting its own reviews of the events, as it often does in these situations.”
[Related: Amazon tornado policies expose unsafe policies.]
Amazon also added that its internal investigation of the Camden, NJ, facility death stemming from a cardiac arrest shows that it “was not a work-related incident, and instead was related to a personal medical condition.” Eric Frumin, health and safety director at the union-supporting Strategic Organizing Center, explained to CNET earlier this week that on-the-job heart attacks are often still work-related, even if stemming from underlying health conditions. That the death occurred on Prime Day, one of Amazon’s busiest retail days of the year, could also support claims that the company warehouses’ frantic work culture factored into the fatality.
Last month, dozens of Amazon warehouse employees walked off the job in San Bernardino, CA, to protest low wages and dangerous working conditions as part of a growing unionization movement throughout the company. Just yesterday, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official recommended the rejection of Amazon’s current attempts to repeal a historic unionization vote in April at its Staten Island facility. Amazon has until September 16 to appeal the decision.