What we can learn from Amazon’s failings
Many of us read about the BBC’s investigations into working conditions at one of Amazon’s warehouses (if not, here it is), but what does it mean from a warehousing and distribution perspective?
A little background first. We all know Christmas season is here already, and most of the readers know what that means for warehousing, distribution and fulfilment. To say it is a busy, stressful time is an understatement.
Because of the holiday rush, Amazon just put fifteen thousand extra temps on the books to handle the extra volume. No word on how many new staff were at the warehouse in Swansea, but there will have been a lot of relatively untrained temps picking and packing with the reporter, making conditions worse than usual.
After the reporter returned with hidden camera footage and his own notes, the BBC consulted Professor Michael Marmot, an expert on work stress. Professor Marmot says that he believes that Amazon’s working conditions put pickers at risk of mental and physical illness. Specifically, he said that the Swansea footage showed him just about every bad working conditions red flag that he knew to look for.
Amazon denied that the employees were at risk, and insisted that conditions at the Swansea warehouse were typical across the industry. Legal experts counter that work shifts for physically or mentally strenuous work should never exceed 8 hours, even in the case of Amazon’s 4-day weeks. Amazon denies that their10.5 hour shifts are actually illegal.
So, what can the warehousing and fulfilment industry look out for, to reduce worker stress? We need to beware of any situation where humans and automation are working together (such as the picker’s handset) and the human is the bottleneck to production. The competitive market for our services means that we will always, always be tempted to push the humans beyond their safe limits. Here at DMG Freight Services, we value our employees and we are all part of a team working together to ensure we have a happy, stress-free workforce. After all, if our staff are happy, they are more productive so aside from our employees being valued members of our team it’s just business sense to have happy productive staff.
There needs to be a consistent approach to preserving good working conditions in the midst of an increasingly automated environment. If technological innovations cannot be found to shift the bottleneck away from human employees, and an industry standard for working conditions cannot be engineered, the British or EU government will eventually step in with regulations that will prove even more expensive.