In a scene right out of a science fiction movie, a robot went berserk at a New Jersey Amazon warehouse on December 6, 2018, and sent 24 human employees to the hospital.
30 others were treated at the scene.
The accident took place when a robot malfunctioned and punctured a can of bear repellant.
The can of repellant contained 255 grams of capsaicin — the active component in hot chili peppers which burns and irritates tissue on contact especially sensitive ones such as the eyes, nose, and throat.
Twenty-four injured staff members were sent to five nearby hospitals for care. One was listed in critical condition. Fortunately, all of the workers are expected to be well enough for release within one day.
“All of the impacted employees have been or are expected to be released from hospital within the next 24 hours. The safety of our employees is always our top priority and a full investigation is already under way,” assured Amazon, in an official statement.
Rachel Lighty, speaking for Amazon said in a prepared statement:
“Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility. The safety of our employees is our top priority, and as such, all employees in that area have been relocated to a safe place and employees experiencing symptoms are being treated onsite. As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment.”
The bear spray fumes were confined to the fulfillment center’s third floor south wing and posed no danger to area residents.
According to ABC News, the official inquiry stated that “an automated machine accidentally punctured a 9-ounce bear repellent can, releasing concentrated Capsaican.”
In case you missed the movie Backcountry, bear repellant is nothing to be trifled with. It is basically mace – pepper spray – on steroids. Bear-sized.
Hikers, campers, and hunters carry bear spray in bear country just in case they have a close encounter of the Ursus (Latin for “bear”) kind. Similarly to wasp spray, bear spray is supposed to deter bears from eating you alive. It’s strong stuff and a highly concentrated pepper extract.
When it comes to bear spray, marketers talk about range – how many feet this baby will shoot – and capacity – “up to 9.2 seconds of continuous bear spray,” claims one commercial product.
A union spokesperson for Amazon defended the robot, blaming the can for falling off the shelf. “The robot could not help itself. It is, after all, programmed to do one thing. And, may I add, this robot has a sterling service record. It does that one thing very well indeed.” NOT! (Do not believe this paragraph – it’s irresistible fun but pure fiction.)
What actually did happen was that the Union President for retail, wholesale and department stores, Stuart Appelbaum, warned:
“Amazon’s automated robots put humans in life-threatening danger. This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. The richest company in the world cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people’s lives at risk.”
Amazon employees say their workplaces are unsafe. Management denies the claims, saying that total incidents are statistically insignificant and dismisses the negative allegations.
In the past three years, ambulances had to be summoned on 600 occasions to British Amazon warehouses. Eight people fell unconscious on the job site. Three cases involved pregnant women and three others were major trauma victims. Electric shocks accounted for two ambulance calls.
Many Amazon employees also receive wages that are below subsistence level. In certain U.S. states, almost one out of every three Amazon employees receive food stamp assistance.
Employee advocates identify the root of Amazon’s human resources problem as the fact that the retail monster refuses to allow its staff members to unionize. Since the company started up in 1994, employees have no official voice or legal recourse to address their grievances.
This company has a net worth of somewhere around $140 BILLION (with a “B”) and its owner – Jeff Bezos – is literally the richest guy in the world. Evidently, Amazon’s CEO believes in short-shrifting the staff.
That penny-pinching attitude appears to be affecting machinery maintenance and it is certainly undermining employee morale.
James Bloodworth worked undercover as an order picker for three weeks in 2016 to research a book titled Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low Wage Britain. The job site was in Rugeley, a small town in Staffordshire, UK.
Bloodworth reported that he and his 1,200 coworkers – mostly from Romania – walked as much as 15 miles in a ten and a half hour shift, picking items from 6-foot tall shelves. All of this for minimum wage: 7 British pounds or 9 American dollars per hour. Conditions were grim, according to the experienced manual laborer:
“The warehouse had the atmosphere of what I imagine a low-security prison would feel like. You had to pass in and out of gigantic airport-style security gates at the end of every shift and each time you went on break or needed to use the toilet. It could take as long as 10 or 15 minutes to pass through these gigantic metal scanners. A corporate, Orwellian form of double-speak was pervasive. You were not called a worker but an ‘associate.’ You weren’t fired. Instead, you were ‘released.’ Near the entrance to the warehouse, a cardboard cut-out of a fictional Amazon worker proclaimed, via a speech bubble attached to her head, that ‘we love coming to work and we miss it when we’re not here.'”
It would seem that a shop floor accident involving a robotic machine pales in comparison the horror stories coming from Amazon’s human employees. This is highly ironic given the ginormous retailers’ corporate slogan:
“Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”