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Industry Insights

Gelman: Warehouse Workers' Injuries Increase as Employers Use AI

  • State: New Jersey
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An increase in injuries suffered by warehouse workers, fueled by employers' use of artificial intelligence, is drawing legislative attention. The focus is on Amazon and other major retail giants whose business has exploded since the COVID pandemic emerged.

Jon L. Gelman

Jon L. Gelman

Sophisticated surveillance software

The companies deploy sophisticated surveillance software to track employees' job activities and production, imposing quotas and maintaining heavy workloads. This increased pace and production pressure has resulted in severe injuries to the backs, limbs, joints and the psychiatric health of the workers.

The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) reported that Amazon warehouse injury rates are more than 50% higher than the workplace injury rates for all warehouse workers in the U.S.

Warehouse workers face these hazards:

  • Forklifts.
  • Docks.
  • Conveyors.
  • Inadequate ventilation.
  • Guardrails.
  • Combustion byproducts such as carbon monoxide.
  • Materials storage.
  • Manual lifting/handling.
  • Hazard communication.
  • Charging stations (fire and explosion).
  • Poor ergonomics (musculoskeletal disorders).
  • Inadequate fire safety provisions.
  • Lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Heat stress.

Legislative activity

Legislation was recently passed in California (AB 701) to require large warehouse employers to: 

  • Disclose quotas and pace-of-work standards to workers.
  • Prohibit employers from counting the time workers spend complying with health and safety laws as "time off task.”
  • Require the labor commissioner to enforce the provisions of the law.
  • Require employers to exempt from quotas meal or rest periods, use of bathroom facilities, or compliance with occupational and safety regulations.

OSHA

The U.S. Department of Labor announced that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Amazon during inspections at six warehouse facilities in five states for failing to properly record work-related injuries and illnesses. The findings are part of an ongoing investigation.

Following referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, OSHA opened inspections on July 18, 2022, at Amazon locations in Deltona, Florida; Waukegan, Illinois; and New Windsor, New York; and on Aug. 1, 2022, at locations in Aurora, Colorado; Nampa, Idaho; and Castleton, New York. 

OSHA issued Amazon citations for 14 recordkeeping violations, including failing to record injuries and illnesses, misclassifying injuries and illnesses, not recording injuries and illnesses within the required time, and not providing OSHA with timely injury and illness records.

Amazon faces $29,008 in proposed penalties. Also, OSHA cited Amazon for ergonomic safety violations at three warehouse facilities.

New Jersey retail warehouses

New Jersey has experienced a surge in the establishment of retail warehouses. It is geographically suited for transport on the East Coast and equal distance to major population centers like New York City and Philadelphia. It also is a central transportation hub with abundant air, land and sea facilities. The State of New Jersey has reported numerous injuries of warehouse workers involving forklifts, falls and crush accidents. Investigative reports are published online.

New Jersey workers' compensation benefits

The New Jersey Legislature had many goals in mind when formulating a workers' compensation system for the state. In general, the goal was to relieve injured employees of paying for their own medical care and replace their lost wages with temporary and permanent disability benefits when necessary. 

It is a system based upon expeditious administration so that compensation is awarded with a minimum delay and without a requirement for proof of fault. The Workers' Compensation Act also provides employers with a defined liability that is limited and determinate. In general, the administrative system established by the act was created both to provide a direct remedy to the employee and limit litigation against the employer.

Claimants' attorney Jon L. Gelman is the author of "New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law" and co-author of the national treatise "Modern Workers’ Compensation Law." He is based in Wayne, New Jersey. This blog post is republished with permission.

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