business news in context, analysis with attitude

The hits - and not the good kind - keep coming for Amazon…

The Seattle Times reports that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a new round of citations, saying that its inspections revealed that at six of Amazon's warehouses, "workers … faced a high risk of lower back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. That high risk is due to long hours, awkward and repetitive motions and the weight of items workers are lifting, picking and packing."

This is just the latest in a series of citations against Amazon issued by OSHA, as government regulators take aim at the company, maintaining that, as stated in one court filing, "many of Amazon’s policies and practices are determined at the corporate level."

“Amazon’s operating methods are creating hazardous work conditions and processes, leading to serious worker injuries,” Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said in a statement. “They need to take these injuries seriously and implement a companywide strategy to protect their employees from these well-known and preventable hazards.”

The Times writes that "Amazon has appealed the earlier citations and intends to appeal the most recent penalties."

However, the story also suggests that OSHA's bark may be worse than its bite:  "Amazon could face more than $136,000 in penalties: $29,008 from citations issued in December, $60,269 from citations issued in January and $46,875 from citations issued Wednesday.

"Amazon, comparatively, recorded net sales of $127 billion in the third quarter of 2022, the most recent financial data available. The company recorded net income of $2.9 billion that quarter."

Yesterday, MNB took note of another Seattle Times report that the US Department of Justice civil division is investigating "whether Amazon executives knew about safety hazards and misled others about the company’s safety record."  Specifically, the story says, the DOJ wants to know whether Amazon's management “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to hide the true number of injuries” to its workers, and made "'false representations' to lenders about its safety record to obtain credit."

Meanwhile, The Information reports that Amazon's drone delivery plans have not exactly taken off as planned:

Amazon in December announced with great fanfare that, after nearly a decade of work, it had finally launched drone delivery in the U.S., in two towns in California and Texas. But by mid-January, Amazon Prime Air had made deliveries to fewer than 10 houses, according to people who worked on the project.

"Despite what Amazon has said publicly about regulatory approvals for the drone effort, the Federal Aviation Administration is blocking Amazon’s drones from flying over roads or people without case-by-case permission, according to federal records. That has severely limited the number of homes they can reach in the two towns, Lockeford, Calif., and College Station, Texas. Amazon had asked the FAA to loosen those safety restrictions, but the agency issued a new set of rules late last year that rejected many of the company’s requests."

According to the story, "A person with direct knowledge of Amazon’s operations in Lockeford said they were only aware of two households having received a total of three deliveries between them as of mid-January. In College Station, delivery numbers were similarly limited by the FAA restrictions, with around five households having received deliveries by the middle of last month, one person who worked at the site estimated … Amazon’s drones have flown several hundred flights at the two locations since the fall, but nearly all of those have been maintenance flights in which its drones flew on its own property, where they completed tasks such as delivering dummy packages, two people who worked on the project said."

The Information writes that "while many of Prime Air’s missed milestones and safety incidents over the years have been well documented, the restrictions that continue to kneecap Prime Air’s expansion plans have not been previously reported."

The story notes that "Amazon has a spotty record with the FAA. The company’s drones have crashed at least eight times during drone tests, including one time in 2021 when the crash sparked a multiple-acre blaze in rural Oregon … In at least two of those crashes, the FAA said Amazon moved crash evidence before regulators could inspect it, according to Insider. Amazon has said no one has ever been injured as a result of its flight tests."

The Information also points out that "looser safety restrictions enjoyed by Amazon’s competitors have significantly increased the number of households they can reach. Alphabet’s Wing has made more than 300,000 deliveries for partners such as Walgreens and DoorDash in the U.S., Australia and Finland, according to the company. Walmart, which is working with multiple drone-delivery startups, made more than 6,000 deliveries of items like rotisserie chickens and paper towels from dozens of stores across the U.S. in 2022, the company said in January."

KC's View:

All this is happening at a time when Amazon is about to report its Q4 results;  those numbers are slated to come out late today.  Expectations are that they will be disappointing, creating even more pressure on Amazon and its CEO, Andy Jassy, to put the company back on course.

But we'll have more on that tomorrow…