Doubling down on claims that its warehouses are safe, Amazon has sued Washington’s workplace safety regulator.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in a federal court in Seattle, Amazon accused Washington Department of Labor & Industries of stacking the system against employers and violating their due process rights. Under Washington law, if a company receives a safety violation, it must take steps proposed by L&I to mitigate safety concerns even before any violations have been proven — and while an appeal is pending. 

Amazon faces $81,000 in fines from four citations issued between May 2021 and March 2022 over safety concerns at three of its Washington warehouses — in Kent, DuPont and Sumner.

Regulators have accused Amazon of setting an unsafe pace of work that puts employees at risk of musculoskeletal injuries. In an inspection of Amazon’s Kent warehouse, safety officials found 10 of the 12 processes inspected “create a serious hazard” for back, shoulder, wrist and knee injuries.

After issuing three citations against the company, the department wrote in its fourth that Amazon was aware of these hazards and was “knowingly putting workers at risk.”

Amazon has appealed all four citations, arguing employee safety is critical to the company and pointing to its “comprehensive, innovative and robust” health and safety program. 

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In its court filing, Amazon pointed to its $300 million investment in 2021 in safety improvements, including new technology, vehicle-safety controls and engineering ergonomic solutions. It launched a 5-year, $12 million partnership with the nonprofit National Safety Council to focus on reducing ergonomic injuries. It also tripled its “safety team” in the past four years, from 2,400 to more than 8,000 people.

“The safety of our employees is our top priority, and we disagree with these allegations and look forward to showing the facts as the legal process plays out,” an Amazon spokesperson said Tuesday.

Safety violations

Earlier this year safety regulators said the company hasn’t done enough. 

“We really haven’t run into that issue before. Historically, businesses are really good at fixing hazards,” Dina Lorraine, an L&I spokesperson told The Seattle Times in March. “We are still discussing it with Amazon.”

Regulators first cited Amazon for unsafe working conditions in May 2021 after an inspection of its DuPont, Pierce County facility, one of the company’s facilities with the highest injury rate among workers. It issued a second fine for that facility in January.

When labor officials returned to the Amazon warehouse in DuPont, Lorraine said Amazon had made some changes since the first inspection, including the layout of workstations to reduce how far workers had to reach and hired an injury prevention specialist to start analyzing different jobs in the warehouse.

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“This sounds like quite a bit,” Lorraine said. “But it falls far short of implementing their ergonomic program. It’s a big facility with a lot of workers at risk, so they have a lot more to do.”

Regulators issued similar workplace safety violations for two other Amazon facilities: One in December 2021 for its Sumner location and one in March 2022 for its Kent warehouse.

Amazon requests

Amazon said in its court filing Monday it would be “tremendously disruptive” to make the changes the department had proposed. It would require a “costly study”; a “comprehensive redesign” of its facility; and installation, training and plans to address new health and safety risks associated with new equipment.

In August, Washington’s Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals denied Amazon’s request to “stay” the L&I mitigation orders, or put them on hold temporarily while its appeal was pending. The board cited procedural violations by Amazon, including a failure to certify that the company had posted notices in its facilities informing workers of its appeal.

Amazon is asking the court now to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of Washington regulator’s safety mitigation plans while Amazon’s appeal is pending. A hearing to discuss the merits of Amazon’s challenge will likely conclude in February, according to court filings.

After that, Amazon is asking the court to issue a permanent injunction, preventing the enforcement of Washington regulator’s safety plans indefinitely. 

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“In this particular filing, we’re challenging an unusual state requirement that says we need to change our operations prior to a full and fair hearing on the merits, which we don’t believe is the right approach,” the spokesperson said.

Delivery concerns

Meanwhile, outside of Amazon’s warehouses, a group of independent delivery drivers sued the company Friday over their own workplace safety concerns. 

The plaintiffs alleged that Amazon and its delivery service partners — independent companies that help Amazon make deliveries — failed to provide employees with rest and meal breaks and did not compensate employees for all hours worked, including overtime wages. 

It’s not the first lawsuit of its kind. A Wyoming delivery company filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon in April on behalf of Amazon’s estimated 2,500 delivery service partners in the U.S. That came after two delivery partners operating in Oregon and one in North Carolina sued Amazon over similar allegations.

Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti said the company partners with its delivery service partners to set “realistic expectations that do not place undue pressure on them or their drivers while still fulfilling customer expectations.”