The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) today released its annual “dirty dozen” list of employers operating some of the most dangerous workplaces in America, and Amazon topped the list for the second year running. Among the newcomers, Facebook has now earned a spot on the list.
Specifically, COSH cites six fatalities since last year’s “dirty dozen” – three of whom were crewing Atlas Air flight 3591, which crashed in late February. Two other individuals were killed by a collapsing warehouse wall at a facility in Baltimore during a storm, while a sixth fell while in the process of constructing a fulfilment centre in California this January.
On a press call this afternoon, David-Jamel Williams, a former Amazon warehouse picker, says he witnessed workers “pushed to the brink of exhaustion” and those who spoke up were “pressured to be quiet.” As a result of the crushing quotas, Williams claimed a box containing chemicals was improperly stowed in a bin which spilled onto his face, injuring his eyes. He also claims he was recently fired for negative unpaid time-off balance – part of Amazon’s unusual time-tracking system.
The overwhelming majority of companies that make the “dirty dozen” list secured their placement due to injuries, assaults, harassment, and fatalities on the job – the sorts of things that typically fall under OSHA’s purview. (COSH estimates OSHA – which only has 875 inspectors on payroll – would need 158 years to inspect all US workplaces.) XPO Logistics, for instance, landed among this year’s infamous honorees for the half dozen women who suffered miscarriages in its overheated warehouses. After workers filed over two dozen complaints with the EEOC over harassment, McDonald’s also earned a slot on COSH’s shitlist.
But in a surprise move, COSH opted to also include Facebook, as well as Cognizant, Accenture and two other firms who supply contract labour to the social media giant. Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, a director at COSH, said these agencies are “co-responsible” with Facebook for exposing content moderators to disturbing content which has led to some workers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. The practice of dumping this emotionally scarring work on contractors has been uncovered over and over and over, most recently by The Verge, and has been used by a number of platforms. According to Goldstein-Gelb, Facebook made the list instead of YouTube or Twitter (for example) because workers have repeatedly spoken up on their own about the impact reviewing Facebook content has had on their mental well-being.
In spite of appearances, the “dirty dozen” list’s purpose isn’t simply to name and shame. “We don’t just want to hammer at companies,” Goldstein-Gelb was sure to note, “we want to see change.” She praised recent moves by hardware giant Lowes, which made the list last year for its sale of paint strippers and other products containing methylene chloride – something it’s since vowed to cease carrying.
“We are committed to working with our partners to provide support for those that review content as we recognise that reviewing certain types of content can be hard. Everyone who reviews content for Facebook goes through an in-depth, multi-week training program on our Community Standards and has access to extensive support to ensure their well-being and resiliency,” a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement. “We are also employing technical solutions to limit exposure to graphic material as much as possible. This is an important issue, and we are committed to getting this right.”
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Amazon sent Gizmodo the following statement:
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ press release issued today should be taken with a giant grain of salt. The National Council of Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) is NOT a government entity, it is NOT a group of regulators, and it does NOT have any official understanding of the workings of an Amazon fulfilment centre – that would be OSHA, the federal entity established by Congress on April 28, 1971. COSH is in fact a coalition of union organisations and parties with a business cause to undermine Amazon’s reputation through a clear campaign of misinformation. Safety is our number one priority. While any serious incident is one too many, we learn and improve our programs working to prevent future incidents. Safety training and continuous improvement is something tens of thousands of Amazon associates and partner companies focus on every day. But don’t take our word for it; come see for yourself how safe it is to work in an Amazon fulfilment centre by signing up for a tour. Kids 6 and up are invited. It’s that safe.
Featured image: Justin Sullivan (Getty)