Thomas MacaulaySenior reporter
Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy. Thomas is a senior reporter at TNW. He covers European tech, with a focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy.
Amazon is often accused of treating staff like expendable robots. And like machines, sometimes employees break down.
A 2019 survey of 145 warehouse workers found that 65% of them experienced physical pain while doing their jobs. Almost half (42%) said the pain persists even when they’re not working.
That’s a real shame — for Amazon. Those pesky injuries can slow down the company’s relentless pace of work.
But the e-commerce giant may have found a solution. Is it a more humane workload? Upgraded workers’ rights? Of course not. It’s an algorithm that switches staff around tasks that use different body parts.
[Read: The biggest tech trends of 2021, according to 3 founders]
Jeff Bezos unveiled the system in his final letter as CEO to Amazon shareholders:
We’re developing new automated staffing schedules that use sophisticated algorithms to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion and help protect employees from MSD [musculoskeletal disorder] risks. This new technology is central to a job rotation program that we’re rolling out throughout 2021.
The world’s richest man added that Amazon has already reduced these injuries.
He said that muskoskeletal disorders at the company dropped by 32% from 2019 to 2020. More importantly, MSDs resulting in time off work decreased by more than half.
Those claims probably shouldn’t be taken at face value, however. Last year, an investigation found that Amazon had misled the public about workplace injury rates.
Bezos did acknowledge that the company still needs to do a better job for employees. But he disputed claims that employees are “treated as robots.”
Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the restroom, or talk to a manager, all without impacting their performance.
He added that Amazon is going to be “Earth’s Best Employer” and “Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” Reports of staff peeing in bottles, shocking injury rates, union-busting, invasive surveillance, and impossible performance targets suggest he’s got a long way to go.
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