In all, 54 workers were exposed to the fumes released. Bear repellent is made with capsaican, or chili pepper extract. Many employees had trouble breathing and complained that their throat and eyes burned. However, all of the injured workers are expected to be released from the hospital soon, if they are not already, according to a spokesperson for Amazon, Rachael Lighty. In a statement Lighty said: “The safety of our employees is always our top priority.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) claims it is conducting an investigation into the accident.
The Robbinsville warehouse has drawn scrutiny for other workplace safety issues. In 2016, OSHA issued Amazon a citation for failing to report at least 26 work-related illnesses and injuries there. Nevertheless, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We take safety very seriously, we do not agree with the findings and will be contesting the citation.”
This is the second accident with bear spray caused by a robot
Amazon is trying to automate as many tasks as it can using robots. Amazon has about 45,000 robots it is now using. However, all have one fatal flaw that makes them unlikely to replace humans in the near future. None of them have hands. A recent article notes: “Squat wheeled machines carry boxes around in more than 20 of the company’s cavernous fulfillment centers across the globe. But it falls exclusively to humans to do things like pulling items from shelves or placing them into those brown boxes that bring garbage bags and pens and books to our homes.”
Back in 2015 at an Amazon facility in Haslet Texas a robot ran over a can of bear repellent which exploded causing the fire department to respond.
This is the second accident involving bear repellent this year
An employee at an Indiana warehouse told WIRED that someone dropped a can of the repellent which then ruptured but apparently no injuries occurred. Amazon spokesperson Lighty confirmed that the Indiana incident did happen and also confirmed the 2015 accident as well.
Amazon has a poor safety record according to some
The National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) announced this August that Amazon was at the top of its “Dirty Dozen” list. The group claims that Amazon puts workers at risk because of unsafe labor practices. The NCOSH counted 7 fatalities the have taken place at US Amazon facilities since 2013. Three were at separate locations within 5 weeks in 2017. Recently, in November, 2 more Amazon employees were killed by a falling wall in Baltimore caused by a storm partially collapsing the warehouse. However, Amazon hardly is at fault in this instance.
An Amazon spokesperson claimed: “While any serious incident is one too many, we learn and improve our programs working to prevent future incidents.” The company claims it surveys it workers every month to gauge their perception of safety in their workplace.