Amazon distributed a “health and wellness guide” to workers at a warehouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma, instructing them to train like “industrial athletes” in order to improve their performance on the job, Vice News reported Tuesday.
The guide, according to Vice, tells workers to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” and lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a single shift (more than 30 pounds every minute for a 10-hour shift).
The guide, Vice reported, discusses topics including nutrition, hydration, sleep, footwear, ergonomics, and injury prevention, with suggestions such as: eat five to nine servings of veggies per day, “monitor your urine color,” and buy shoes “at the end of the day when your feet are swollen to allow for plenty of room when they swell during work.”
Amazon also said in the guide, according to Vice, that workers could seek help from “injury prevention specialists” for “body discomforts that you may have as an industrial athlete.”
Amazon told Insider the guide was created “in error” and that it has “removed” the guide. It’s unclear if the guide was distributed at additional warehouses beyond the one in Tulsa.
Amazon did not respond to Insider’s follow-up questions about who was responsible for creating the guide, why no one noticed what the company claimed was a mistakenly created guide before it was distributed to workers, or when it was removed (Vice reported that the guides dated back to 2020).
Vice reported that it obtained the guide from former Amazon employee Bobby Gosvenor, who claimed the company told him to keep working even after he suffered a herniated disc — an injury he sustained due to a broken conveyer belt the company hadn’t yet fixed — and that Amazon delayed him from getting treatment for two months by forcing him to seek diagnoses from multiple doctors.
Amazon did not respond to questions about Gosvenor’s injury.
Vice’s report about Amazon’s “wellness” guide, which told workers how they should take care of themselves, comes the same day as an analysis from The Washington Post that found that Amazon is doing a significantly worse job taking care of its workers as competitors.
In 2020, about 5.9 out of every 100 Amazon employees were injured on the job, compared to 2.5 at Walmart, according to The Post’s analysis. That echoes previous reporting from Reveal and other news outlets showing that Amazon has long had higher workplace injury rates than what’s typical for its industry, and has deceived the public and regulators about those rates by underreporting injuries, delaying workers from seeking medical treatment, and assigning employees to “light duty” work in an effort to downplay the hours of labor lost due to serious injuries.
In response to The Post’s story, Amazon told Insider that the company is investing more in workplace safety and taking a number of steps to reduce injuries. One of those programs is its WorkingWell program, which includes phonebooth-sized enclosed boxes where employees can practice mindfulness .
In Jeff Bezos’ final shareholder letter as CEO, he also detailed Amazon’s plans to use algorithms to rotate workers between jobs in an effort to use all of their muscle groups rather than overloading one muscle group.
But none of Amazon’s wellness programs had previously appeared to address what some experts say is the root of its injury rates: demanding and inflexible productivity quotas, which require workers to complete a large number of tasks per shift and penalize them for “time off task.”
On Tuesday, Amazon published a blog post saying that it would measure each worker’s time off task over a longer period of time in an effort to focus more on resolving “operational issues” relative to identifying “under-performing employees.”
However, Amazon did not commit to easing up on its productivity quotas or allowing workers more time off task.
Aiha Nguyen, a researcher at the think tank Data & Society, who studies how Amazon and other employers use technology to extract more productivity out of workers, said in a recent report that the rise of workplace surveillance — along with weakened labor law — contributes to “work speedups, overwork, and injury.”
“Amazon has been leading the pack toward technologically driven speedups,” Nguyen said, citing its time-off-task policy and a game called “Mission Racer” that Amazon created to make workers compete with each other to fulfill customer orders.
“Making work into a race contrasts with other standard and accepted principles of engineering that set rates based on the ability of an average worker or the overall workforce, not an algorithm,” Nguyen said. “As a consequence, the injury rate for warehouse workers is increasing.”
In response to The Post’s report, labor groups affiliated with Amazon workers called for the company to end its time-off-task policies.
“The stunning analysis released today is proof that Amazon’s impossible productivity requirements are unsustainable and must be brought to a swift end. Amazon’s grueling and strenuous pace of work puts workers in increased danger of serious injuries, and appallingly has been used to punish any workers who push back,” Debbie Berkowitz, director of the worker safety and health program at the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.
“Amazon workers don’t need meditation booths. They need Amazon to end rate and Time Off Task requirements and redesign the physical layout of the jobs to provide workers with a safe workplace. Workers should not have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck,” she added.