Behind the Vest: Safety as an Amazonian

Wednesday, August 2, 2023|Behind the Vest

Amazon is not only one of the largest employers in the U.S. but also one of the major providers of safety roles, granting many individuals interested in a safety career their first significant work experience in occupational safety. With a reputation for innovativeness and efficiency, Amazon offers numerous positions in its vast network of warehouses, making it a popular choice for safety professionals. At the same time, the corporation's size and systematization might cause some apprehension about whether the working environment and the challenges of a large organization could limit the impact of any one individual. This post is an attempt at a balanced portrayal of a safety career at Amazon, with some insights for those considering becoming an Amazionian.


Before diving into what we’ve heard from employees, let’s start where most job seekers start: the company career page. The company's safety department appears to be made up of six major job categories: WHS Coordinator, WHS Specialist, WHS Manager, Health Manager, Occupational Nurse, and Occupational Doctor. Each role has its distinct tasks and objectives, yet they all play a crucial part in ensuring a safe work environment within Amazon's vast network of warehouses.


These positions generally fall into two groups. On one hand, there's the Safety advisor or officer roles such as WHS Coordinator, Specialist, and Manager. These professionals are mainly responsible for implementing and maintaining safety standards, providing guidance, and driving safety projects. Some safety experience or education is generally required for entry level positions in this group.


On the other hand, there are the roles concentrated on the health aspect, including Health Manager, Occupational Nurse, and Occupational Doctor. These roles work within the medical center of each fulfillment center, providing first aid, health checks, and conducting medical tasks. As you’d expect, medical training and certification is generally required for roles in this group.


Regardless of the specific role, safety personnel are involved in inspections, observations, incident reports, and engaging in "hearts and minds" type activities. These activities focus on promoting safety awareness and a strong safety culture among the workforce. They might also find themselves involved in a more specialized daily routine, like reviewing Kanban or area boards. These boards display important metrics for each department, and are designed to keep safety front and center in daily operations.


While these roles may seem diverse, a common theme emerges in reports given by current and former employees: leadership is key. Being able to secure buy-in from operations is a must for effectiveness in any safety position at Amazon. The interaction with different layers of the company, from warehouse workers to area leads and HR, requires strong communication and persuasive ability.


The experiences described by those employees are fairly consistent, and give us the ability to peer through the walls of one of the world's largest companies.


Working at Amazon is generally considered a great learning opportunity. Despite the corporation's high level of systematization, employees are granted a level of freedom that encourages growth and development, and may be surprising at companies of their size. This is particularly beneficial for those who are new to the safety field and seek to gain exposure to safety concepts and practices at large corporations. In their roles, safety professionals will learn about federal and state regulations, risk assessments, incident investigations, and other safety concepts important to Amazon's operations.


Yet, the size and structure of Amazon also bring on some challenges. Employees report that it can be difficult to effect change, given Amazon’s established culture and large bureaucracy. There's an emphasis on efficiency and minimizing errors, which can lead to pressure during busy times like the holiday season. Moreover, the high degree of systematization means that much of the work is guided by predefined policies. While this can simplify tasks, it can also limit opportunities for independent problem-solving that are found more readily in smaller organizations.


Amazon's performance in safety is another consideration. Based on data collected by WSI, their injury rates are on the rise. In 2021, the company reported over 37,000 injuries, giving them a Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) of 7.41, higher than the industry average of 5.6 for warehousing and storage. This included 12,000 Days Away From Work (DAFW) cases and 23,000 cases of job transfer. For more information about Amazon's safety performance, visit their company page here.


Despite these challenges, many former employees consider their time at Amazon as a positive stepping stone in their safety career. The company's focus on career growth, pay, and benefits, combined with the possibility of upward mobility, explain why it continues to be a popular place to work. Moreover, having a recognizable name like Amazon on your resume will help when applying for future jobs.


To sum it up, working as a safety professional at Amazon presents unique opportunities and challenges. While the systematized environment can limit certain learning experiences, it also provides a structured framework for understanding safety concepts and practices. The key to thriving in the workplace seems to hinge on strong leadership skills and the ability to secure buy-in from operations. Therefore, individuals considering a safety position at Amazon should weigh their preferred work environment, skills, and career goals in determining whether a job there is right for them.