How Amazon’s In-House First Aid Clinics Encourage Injured Employees to Stay at Work

How Amazon's In-House First Aid Clinics Encourage Injured Employees to Stay at Work

Interviews with OMR who work in other facilities indicate that the practice of turning injured employees home is not limited to the Albany warehouse. The eight OMRs who spoke to WIRED said they faced direct pressure from managers to keep the number of workers they sent to doctors low, even though Amazon’s protocol required them to offer injured employees the option of being referred for outside medical care. Some former OMR say that when an injured worker asks to see a doctor, they should wait for a senior manager to interview the worker first, though Amazon says this is not part of its protocol. One OMR who worked in Maryland said that if their manager saw in the messaging system that they were sending workers to the doctor the day they were injured, “they would drag ass into our office to get us one.”

Peter Torres, who works at AmCare at a facility in California’s Central Valley, says managers will post their high “first day” numbers at meetings, the number of employees who are sent to the doctor the same day they are injured. “It makes us look bad,” he told managers to AmCare staff. “We need to try to find a way to improve those numbers, which was a big surprise for me.” Torres said he had to seek permission from senior management to send employees to doctors, and sometimes they would try to persuade workers not to go. The other three OMRs said they heard from managers or employees that managers had dissuaded workers from seeing doctors.

Once, a manager asked Torres to try to convince an injured employee to be treated at home. A colleague had decided to refer the worker to a doctor, and Torres was asked to persuade the worker not to leave. “Where I come from, in the world of emergency medical services, that’s a no-go. You never step on other people’s patients,” he said.

In the spring of 2022, a fulfillment center in Salt Lake City, Utah, was sending five to six employees to company worker doctors each week, among the highest rates for Amazon facilities in the area, said former OMR Jed Martinez. He said senior operations managers were telling staff they needed to reduce that number to one or two per week. Managers encourage OMR to tell employees there’s nothing a doctor can offer that AmCare can’t provide, he says.

Amazon’s Vogel said the manager’s behavior described by Torres, Martinez, and other OMR violated company policy and that the company tracks “day one” numbers only to ensure its staff is providing high-quality first aid.

Many clinic staff who spoke to WIRED said they were doing their best to help employees under the restrictions Amazon placed on them, and some employees seemed to be improving. But others got worse—particularly those with repetitive stress injuries, says a former Colorado-based EMT. Amazon’s policy states that employees who don’t improve should be referred immediately to outside providers, but he’s seen some workers stuck in a cycle of injuries. “We’re really struggling to get those people better because they’re still going out there and doing the same repetitive motions that hurt them in the first place.”

Delayed Care

Amazon is battling a growing number of regulators, law enforcement, and politicians who are trying to force it to deal meaningfully with warehouse security. OSHA is currently opening investigations at 18 Amazon warehouses and has issued six citations at eight facilities as of 2023, including one in April for medical mismanagement and one last month for ergonomic hazards at the New Jersey facility. It was accompanied by a warning letter stating that AmCare employees at the warehouse failed to ensure that injured employees received proper medical care, including several employees with head injuries.

In Washington state, trials began on July 24 after the state’s occupational safety regulator said that in three Amazon warehouses, ergonomics and work speed, combined with the company’s discipline system, increased the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. The agency ordered Amazon to change its process, but claims it has made improvements and rejects the accusations. Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice is investigating whether the company intentionally underreported injury, and Bernie Sanders recently launched a Senate investigation into the company’s safety record. Multiple investigations could force Amazon to change its processes, or bring executives before Congress.

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