The launch of Proteus comes 10 years after Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, which later became Amazon Robotics. Kiva robots carry customer orders of up to 1,000 pounds from the warehouse to human pickers, but work in a section of the warehouse that humans cannot access.
Eric Frumin, director of health and safety at the Center for Strategic Organizations, said Amazon’s promotion of a new robot that avoids hitting people is distracting attention from the main cause of injuries at its facilities.
“Amazon has an amazing ability to create new and more fascinating hazards for workers,” Fruming said. “Maybe this robot will present some new threats to workers, but I’m more concerned that companies are completely blind to the dangers they know about.” Those dangers, he says, include requiring workers to perform quick and repetitive actions that lead to injury: for example, When the truck is loaded from the floor to the ceiling or when using a manual pallet jack.
Fluming is a co-author of the Center for Strategic Organization’s analysis of Amazon’s OSHA filing, which was released in April. The survey found that the company’s only annual drop in the injury rate since 2017 was in 2020, when it temporarily reduced worker quotas due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The report found that by 2021, the injury rate has increased by 20%. It also found that while Amazon employs a third of its warehouse workers in the U.S., half of warehouse worker injuries occur at facilities run by the company. At Amazon, about 90 percent of injuries are severe enough to cause people to miss work or not be able to work properly.
In March, state regulators fined the company $60,000 for “intentional, gross violations” of safety rules that could lead to lower back and upper extremity injuries after an inspection of Amazon’s warehouse in Washington state, where the company is based.
Proteus was unveiled at Amazon’s re:MARS conference last month alongside other technologies the company claims will improve the safety of warehouse workers. A camera system called AR ID can automatically identify packages without requiring workers to hold barcode scanners. One robot called Cardinal can pick up packages weighing up to 50 pounds, and another, formerly known as Ernie, places items in containers for storage, a task that consists of having to repeatedly climb stairs to place items into tall carts. people execute.
Debbie Berkowitz, OSHA’s senior policy adviser and chief of staff during the Obama administration, said Amazon dramatically expanded the use of robots in its warehouses during the Trump administration, when federal officials were concerned about high injury rates. The report did not respond. “Basically, when this happened, no one was watching,” said Berkowitz, who was the safety director for the United Food and Commercial Workers union in the 1980s and 1990s, negotiating with companies that ran supermarket inventory warehouses .
“In the end, I think robots are only going to be better for consumers and worse for workers, who are going to work harder and faster,” Berkowitz said. She argues that Amazon’s failure to take into account the natural variation in human dimensions during the early stages of expansion has led to higher rates of musculoskeletal injuries in workers performing highly repetitive but forceful movements.
Amazon’s Brady told Wired that the company is looking for opportunities to reduce repetitive tasks and lift weights to reduce musculoskeletal injuries. “Every time an accident happens,” he said, “we look at it very keenly and ask ourselves, ‘How can we improve the system so it doesn’t happen again?'” Last month, Amazon pledged to reduce musculoskeletal risks by 2025 In 2018, the injury rate will reach 25%.
Berkowitz said that if Amazon gave her control over worker safety in its warehouses, she would hire ergonomics experts to visit each Amazon fulfillment center and meet with workers, review injury logs, find out which jobs had the highest pain reports, and start thinking about designs Changes to better protect these workers. “They can really be leaders here.”