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Amazon defends health and safety record in virus crisis

26 March 2020

The online retailer has outlined the health and safety measures it has introduced, as it has come under scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company insisted it was playing a critical role in serving customers in unprecedented times.

"We've changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third-party seller processes to prioritise stocking and delivering essential items like household staples, sanitisers, baby formula, and medical supplies," said Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.

Reports indicated that on 19 March 2020, unions said workers were demanding that Amazon takes their lives seriously. The night before a facility in Queens, NY, had been closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for the virus. There are reports that some Amazon warehouse workers in Italy and Spain have tested positive. In France, several hundred Amazon workers protested to demand better measures to protect their safety. In Italy, there have been calls for a strike.

Preventative health measures emphasised by Amazon at its sites include increased frequency and intensity of cleaning, such as regular sanitisation of door handles, handrails, touch screens, scanners, and other frequently touched areas. 

The company added: “We're also requiring employees and delivery service partners to clean and disinfect their work stations.

“We are consulting with health authorities and medical experts on how to handle building closures for deep cleaning, if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Our process evaluates where the employee was in the building, for how long, how much time has passed since they were onsite, and who they interacted with, among other items, in determining whether we need to close. We also ask anyone at the site who was in close contact with the diagnosed individual to stay home with pay for 14-days in self-quarantine.

“We've adjusted our practices so that our fulfillment centre employees can maintain a safer distance from co-workers. This includes eliminating stand-up meetings during shifts. Instead, business-essential information is shared via white boards near main areas and through conversations with managers or HR team members. We've staggered shift start times and break times, spread out tables in the break rooms on site, and suspended exit screening to ensure ease of movement near main entrances. We've shifted trainings so we don’t have employees gathering in one spot, we’ve adjusted our hiring process to encourage social distancing, and we've paused hosting public guests in our buildings.

“Employee communications include requirements that everyone wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, alcohol-based hand sanitiser stations are easily accessible throughout our buildings. In addition to break times, employees are invited to log out of their system to wash their hands whenever they choose, which has no impact on their performance.”

All hourly Amazon associates within the operations and delivery network in the U.S. will receive double their regular hourly base rate of pay for every overtime hour worked in a workweek from March 15, 2020 to May 9, 2020.

Delivery personnel

Amazon has provided a detailed list of procedures for its network of delivery partners that are focused on their health and safety, and that of its customers.

The company said: “At the start and end of routes, delivery associates and Flex delivery partners must use disinfectant wipes to clean all frequently touched surfaces in their vehicles and other work equipment, including things like keys, steering wheel, buttons, and delivery devices.

“We've also instructed them to refrain from shaking hands or having any other physical contact with customers, and maintain a minimum one-meter distance from customers at all times.

“We've asked that delivery associates and Flex delivery partners wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. They should use a tissue to cover a cough or sneeze, throw the tissue in the trash, then wash their hands. Work uniforms (including work gloves) must be washed daily.

“We've urged all delivery service partners and drivers to stay home if they feel sick or have a fever. They must be fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication before returning to work. And like we’re doing with all individuals, we are supporting people if they need time off.”