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What Amazon’s plan to improve worker safety reveals about the company’s true nature

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An Amazon sign above the entrance to a sortation center. (GeekWire File Photo / Todd Bishop)

Addressing the issue of warehouse worker safety in response to a shareholder question this week, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy described the company’s safety initiatives — most of them related to technology and invention.

  • Wearable technology with haptic signals to let workers know when their movements are putting their safety at risk.
  • A program with algorithms that predict when people doing repetitive tasks are at risk of injury, so they can be moved to different activities.
  • New forms of transportation, including vehicles and technologies to reduce accident rates.
Andrea Leigh, a former Amazon general manager, is founder and CEO of Allume Group.

Amazon’s focus on technology is “true to their DNA,” says former Amazon general manager and retail category leader Andrea Leigh, who is now founder and CEO of Allume Group, an e-commerce learning company.

“They focused a little bit less on empathy and more on the science and the technology of workplace safety,” Leigh says.

Looking at it from Amazon’s perspective, the approach makes sense, she points out: “If you have half-a-million or more warehouse workers, you are probably thinking about it algorithmically.”

But labor unions and employees are focused more on the individual human impact.

“And I think those two points of view just won’t ever marry,” Leigh says.

That’s one of the takeaways from our discussion with Leigh on this week’s GeekWire Podcast, recapping and analyzing Amazon’s annual meeting this week. Several shareholder proposals at the meeting addressed employee issues, including warehouse worker safety and unionization.

We also talk about Amazon’s effort to return to profitability in its consumer business, the bigger goal behind its physical retail stores, and the push for more diversity and inclusion in its workforce, among other topics.

Listen above, or subscribe to GeekWire in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen.

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