The introduction of Proteus comes 10 years after Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva Systems, which became Amazon Robotics. Kiva robots transport up to 1,000 pounds of customer orders from warehouse to human pickers, but operate in a part of the warehouse where humans cannot walk.
Strategic Organizing Center health and safety director Eric Frumin says Amazon’s promotion of a new robot that avoids bumping into humans is a distraction from the primary causes of damage to its facilities.
“Amazon has an amazing capacity to create new and more glamorous hazards for workers,” says Frumin. “Maybe this robot will have a new threat to workers, but I’m more concerned about the complete blindness of the company in terms of the dangers they are aware of.” He says these hazards include requiring workers to perform quick and repetitive movements that cause injuries: for example, when loading trucks from floor to ceiling or using manual pallet forces.
Frumin co-authored the Strategic Organizing Center’s analysis of Amazon applications with OSHA, released in April. It found that the company’s only annual decline in the number of work injuries since 2017 occurred in 2020, when it temporarily reduced employee quotas as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of injuries then increased by 20 percent in 2021, the report found. It also found that although Amazon employs one in three warehouse workers in the United States, half of all damage to warehouse workers occurred in facilities operated by the company. About 90 percent of the injuries at Amazon were severe enough that people missed work or made them unable to perform normal job functions.
In March this year, after inspections of Amazon department stores in the company’s home state of Washington, state regulators lived the company $ 60,000 for “intentional, serious violation” of safety rules that could lead to injuries to the lower back and upper extremities.
Proteus was introduced last month at Amazon’s re: MARS conference along with other technology that the company claims will improve the safety of warehouse workers. A camera system called AR ID can automatically identify packets without requiring workers to hold a barcode scanner. A robot called Cardinal picks up packages up to £ 50, and another, formerly known as Ernieplaces objects in containers for storage, a task performed by people who repeatedly have to climb stairs to place objects in tall carts.
Debbie Berkowitz, a senior political adviser and chief of staff at OSHA under the Obama administration, says Amazon significantly expanded the use of robots in its department stores during the Trump administration, as federal officials did not respond to reports of high damage rates. “Basically, no one was watching when this happened,” said Berkowitz, who in the 1980s and 1990s worked as safety director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and negotiated with companies that operate supermarket warehouses.
“Ultimately, I think the robots will just do better for consumers and worse for the workers, who are going to work harder and faster,” Berkowitz says. She believes that Amazon failed to take into account the natural variation in human body size early in its expansion, leading to higher rates of musculoskeletal injuries from workers who make very repetitive but vigorous movements.
Brady from Amazon told WIRED that the company is looking for opportunities to reduce repetitive tasks and heavy lifting to reduce musculoskeletal injuries. “Every time there’s an incident,” he says, “we look at it really sharply and ask ourselves, ‘How can we improve the system so it doesn’t happen again?'” Last month, Amazon promised to reduce musculoskeletal risk. and injuries 25 percent in 2025.
Berkowitz says that if Amazon gave her control over worker safety in its department stores, she would hire ergonomic experts to visit all of Amazon’s fulfillment centers and meet with workers, review injury logs, find out which jobs have the highest pain reports and begin to consider design. changes to better protect these workers. “They could really be a leader here.”