Blue Origin now has a 100% safety record for human flight – that’s safer than a job as a truck driver or warehouse worker

jeff bezos new shepard launch blue origin thumb 2x1
  • With the completion of Jeff Bezos’ flight to space, Blue Origin has a perfect safety record.
  • Meanwhile on Earth, roughly 900 transportation and warehousing workers die each year in the US.
  • One of Bezos’ final acts as Amazon CEO was a pledge to make Amazon “the world’s safest place to work.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When billionaire Jeff Bezos and his fellow passengers touched back down to earth Tuesday morning, they gave Blue Origin a perfect safety score of 100%.

Of course, they were taking a calculated risk to life and limb in their suborbital flight. Prior to Tuesday’s flight, just 382 spaceflights had launched from the US, and four of those ended catastrophically.

That works out to a failure rate of about one in 100 – vastly higher than commercial air travel, which has a one in a million incident rate, or most other terrestrial activities, according to analysis from the Center for Space Policy and Strategy.

“Until we get lots of experience, like we’ve had with millions of airplane flights over the years, then there’s going to be some learning involved,” the report’s co-author George Nield told Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen. “With cars and boats and planes and trains, people die every year. And spaceflight is not going to be any different when it comes to that.”

But when viewed another way, US space flight accidents have claimed the lives of far fewer people than the numbers who die from on-the-job injuries. According to US labor statistics, roughly 5,000 workers die each year, compared with 15 astronauts who have died in the history of US spaceflight.

What’s more, of the 5,333 US workers who died in 2019 alone, more than 913 were in the transportation and warehouse industry. In other words, if a worker dies on the job, there’s a strong probability they were driving a truck or working in warehouse.

Across all industries, more than half of worker deaths came from either transportation incidents or slips, trips, and falls. Rates of non-fatal injury and illness are naturally far higher. In 2019, there were roughly three incidents per 100 workers in which a person suffered illness or injury on the job that required at least one day off work.

It is difficult to make direct statistical comparisons between spaceflight and other activities in part because the industry is still so new, which magnifies the risk. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration is presently barred from issuing regulations related to the health and safety of spaceflight participants.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket has now flown 16 times since 2015, including three successful tests of its emergency-escape system that jettisons the passenger capsule away in the event of a failing rocket. Bezos’ flight was the spacecraft’s first with humans aboard.

Blue Origin’s approach to product development is “far less risky” than NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, which had a full crew for its very first flight, John Logsdon, the founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider’s McFall-Johnsen.

Now, Blue Origin’s safety record is better than Amazon’s less-than-perfect one.

Over the years, several warehouse workers have died on the job and many have sustained work-related injuries. In addition, drivers with Amazon’s delivery partners have described how the delivery scheduling app sometimes instructs them to run across many lanes of traffic, and how some have to choose between fulfilling quotas or driving safely.

One of Bezos’ final acts as CEO was to highlight the problem the company currently has with on-the-job injuries, and pledge to make Amazon “the world’s safest place to work.”

In his letter to shareholders, Bezos said he will make workplace safety one of his key areas of focus in his continued role as Executive Chair. The company will invest $300 million in 2021 to cut workplace injuries in half by 2025, including a $66 million project to prevent forklift and industrial vehicle collisions.

“Bezos is a risk-taker,” Logsdon said. “He certainly understands that there are risks involved [in spaceflight], and probably has a good handle on how risky it is.”

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An Amazon warehouse’s IPO plans show how loyalty to the e-commerce giant can breed success for its contractors

Parcels are stored in a truck in a logistics centre of the mail order company Amazon.
Parcels are stored in a truck in a logistics centre of the mail order company Amazon.

  • ROX Financial wants to buy a Bay Area Amazon warehouse and take it public.
  • It wants to buy up more facilities in the future to also lease to the e-commerce giant.
  • The move shows how contractors can piggyback off of Amazon’s success – only if they’re loyal to the firm.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A company wants to buy a warehouse that is leased to Amazon and take it public under the ticker AMZL, according to a securities filing, possibly making it the first company with a single property to publicly trade in the US.

Newly-formed ROX Financial hopes to raise $84 million as it forms a real-estate investment trust, or REIT, to purchase the 146,000-square-foot warehouse in the San Francisco Bay Area from its current owner. That warehouse was built last year to carry out last-mile delivery orders for customers and houses some of Amazon’s signature blue and grey delivery vans.

The warehouse is leased to Amazon for 12 years under its current owner, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. It’s unclear if the warehouse is solely leased to Amazon. An industry trade association source told the paper that a real estate company with just one property has never publicly traded in the US before.

ROX Financial plans to use its IPO to expand its real estate portfolio with more warehouses to lease to Amazon.

“We intend to build Series AMZL into a curated portfolio of logistics properties in one or more locations leased by Amazon.com Services LLC, or Amazon, or its affiliates,” its prospectus says.

Amazon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

But that single property is used to help power Amazon’s sprawling e-commerce business, giving the property owner a major advantage.

And if ROX Financial succeeds in collecting facilities that are leased exclusively to Amazon, it could prove that loyalty to the tech giant could fuel contractors’ success.

Amazon has seen sweeping success in the past year as the pandemic drove sales skyward. That success has helped grow an entire mini-economy of contractors that circulates the e-commerce giant, from third-party sellers to trucking companies to other logistics partners.

Third-party sellers raked in more than half of Amazon’s $386 billion net sales in 2020, and the company is recruiting more. It’s adding 3,700 new sellers daily, according to a study from research firm Finbold, suggesting that Amazon is aware that independent merchants can help it succeed.

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Fire reported at an Amazon warehouse in Maryland

amazon logo

A fire was reported at an Amazon warehouse in Perryville, Maryland, on Wednesday, according to local news outlet WJZ.

According to the outlet, Deputy State Fire Marshals in Maryland are at the scene and investigating how the fire started. Officials told the outlet that air handlers and solar panels were at the center of the blaze.

No injuries have been reported.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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Amazon warehouse workers are reportedly almost twice as likely to face serious injuries compared to rivals like Walmart

Amazon warehouse staff
  • Amazon warehouse workers are more likely to get injured than those at competing companies, according to Washington Post analysis.
  • For every 100 Amazon employees about 5.9 were injured in 2020, as compared to 2.5 at Walmart warehouses.
  • Amazon said the company has actively been working to boost safety protocol at fulfillment centers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon warehouse workers are more likely to get injured than employees at comparable companies like Walmart, according to a report from The Washington Post.

In the past four years, the company has had the highest rate of serious injuries at its warehouses – incidents that led employees to stop working or change their role at Amazon, the publication found.

Last year the company reported over 24,400 injuries and about 12% of the warehouses that reported injuries in the US were owned by Amazon, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) obtained by the Post. The publication collected its own data, but based its story off a report from the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC).

Employees at Amazon warehouses are nearly twice as likely to report serious injuries, according to the SOC report, which found that for every 100 employees there were 5.9 Amazon injuries reported last year, as compared to 2.5 at Walmart warehouses.

An Amazon spokesperson told Insider the company has been actively working to make fulfillment centers safer and avoid workplace injuries.

“We grew our dedicated workplace health and safety team to more than 6,200 employees and invested more than $1B in new safety measures in 2020 – expanding programs like WorkingWell, and implementing new technology and processes, PPE, and enhanced cleaning and sanitization to protect against COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. “While any incident is one too many, we are continuously learning and seeing improvements through ergonomics programs, guided exercises at employees’ workstations, mechanical assistance equipment, workstation setup and design, and forklift telematics and guardrails – to name a few.”

An expert said the injuries could be attributed to Amazon’s high productivity goals, though the OSHA data does not break down the root of the workplace injuries. Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA chief of staff, who now works at a worker advocacy group, told The Post that Amazon’s employee metrics are too lofty and pointed to Amazon’s performance-tracking system that gauges each employee’s productivity level.

Though workplace injuries at Amazon were still higher than at other warehouses in 2020, the number of injuries slightly decreased. The number of incidents dropped around the same time the company briefly halted its performance-tracking system in order to give workers more time to meet COVID-19 safety standards, according to The Post.

In April, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in his final letter to shareholders that the company is working to implement new tools in order to prevent musculoskeletal disorders – an issue that accounts for about 40% of workplace injuries. He said the company needs “to do a better job for our employees” and told shareholders Amazon will invest over $300 million in 2021 to make warehouses safer.

Since the pandemic started, Amazon has continued to grow at a record pace. Last month, the company announced its plans to hire another 75,000 workers in the US and Canada for its fulfillment centers, as well as transportation sector.

The e-commerce giant’s $17 per hour average starting pay has made Amazon an increasingly attractive employment option. Experts told Insider in May that the company’s higher pay opportunities pose a threat to other minimum wage jobs.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

Have you been injured at an Amazon warehouse? Reach out to the reporter at gkay@insider.com.

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A leaked Amazon document reveals what its army of warehouse workers are and aren’t allowed to say on social media

Amazon warehouse staff
  • Amazon’s army of warehouse employees trained to defend the company on Twitter is at it again.
  • The employee accounts follow a standard format, and tend to resurface amid negative press coverage.
  • A newly leaked Amazon document reveals what the workers are and aren’t allowed to discuss.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Amazon’s army of warehouse workers paid to be on Twitter is notorious for showing up in conversations with the intent of defending Amazon.

The workers are also notorious for having eerily robotic speech patterns.

“I can assure you that I’m a real account,” a recent response from one such worker said. “I’m part of a program that lets me come on here & have conversations about what working for Amazon has been like for me. I’d like to know why you feel we are treated/paid bad. I’ve been so happy here & the pay/benefits are great.”

There’s a good reason for those speech patterns, according to a leaked Amazon document obtained by The Intercept. Amazon has a set of guidelines for what those employees can and cannot say, and even offers examples of how to respond.

First and foremost is that “FCAs,” or “Fulfillment Center Ambassadors,” cannot respond to anything regarding unionization, according to the document.

That’s particularly notable given this week’s unionization vote at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. If it passes, it would be the first major union of Amazon workers.

Additionally, they can’t respond to direct media requests without approval from Amazon’s public relations department. They are also barred from responding to “compound” criticisms, or a tweet that also contains a topic that Amazon PR has not approved the FCAs to comment on.

The document offers an example of a tweet that FCAs should not respond to based on such criteria: “@Amazon why are you still advertising on breitbart?! Between that and barely paying your employees, I’m ready to quit shopping with you,” the example said.

Similarly enlightening, the document offers a variety of examples of the type of social media posts that FC Ambassadors should interact with – and the kind of responses the company finds appropriate.

The first example directly addresses the years-long reports from Amazon workers that they have to pee in bottles during shifts to save time: “Example: ‘Daily Sun: Amazon employees forced to urinate in bottles during their shift’.”

Amazon driver thumb pee bottle
An Amazon driver shared this photo with Insider of a bottle of pee inside a delivery van last week.

The example response in the document reads almost exactly like some of the responses from FC Ambassadors.

“No, that’s not right,” the example says. “I worked in an Amazon FC for over four years and never saw anyone urinate in a bottle. There are easily accessible bathrooms in every one of our buildings I’ve ever been in.”

Amazon’s FC Ambassador program isn’t new.

Back in 2018, Amazon admitted to paying a small army of employees to tweet positive things about the company. The document obtained by The Intercept is from 2018, when the program was formed under the code name “Veritas” (Latin for “truth).

It established the foundation of the program, and its purpose: “To address speculation and false assertions in social media and online forums about the quality of the FC associate experience, we are creating a new social team staffed with active, tenured FC employees, who will be empowered to respond in polite – but blunt – ways to every untruth,” the document says.

FC Ambassadors are paid the same hourly rate they get for their warehouse work, Amazon says, and it’s an “entirely voluntary” program.

Since the program started in 2018, a variety of accounts originally associated with it have been deactivated. And in the last few weeks, a handful of new FC accounts have sprung up as reports surfaced once again of employees having to urinate in bottles to preserve work time. The vast majority of FC Ambassador replies on social media specifically address these reports.

When reached for comment, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said: “FC Ambassadors are employees who work in our fulfillment centers and choose to share their personal experience – the FC ambassador program helps show what it’s actually like inside our fulfillment centers, along with the public tours we provide. We encourage anyone who wants to see for themselves to sign up for a tour at www.amazonfctours.com.”

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Amazon is sending employees into the trenches on Twitter as it battles its first union vote and reports about workers peeing in bottles

amazon warehouse
  • Amazon’s paid army of employee Twitter users is at it again, this time criticizing unionization.
  • The employee accounts follow a standard format, and popped up previously amid negative press coverage.
  • A major union drive and reports of delivery drivers peeing in bottles are the primary target.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As new reports surface of Amazon warehouse and delivery staff still having to pee in bottlesor, in some cases, defecate in bags – the company’s employee-powered Twitter army has resurfaced.

“So glad to be on Twitter! Feel free to ask my anything about my experiences as a member of the Amazon family, I’m an open book!” an account tied to an employee named Darla tweeted last week. The account, like several others reviewed by Insider, was started in March 2021.

Back in 2018, Amazon admitted to paying a small army of employees to tweet positive things about the company.

The move was in response to the first revelations that some Amazon warehouse and delivery staff were peeing in bottles to save time due to the demands of their job. The employees paid by Amazon were easy to identify, as they all shared the same “Amazon FC” naming convention on their profiles (FC for “fulfillment center,” the name of Amazon’s shipping warehouses).

After Darla’s cheerful intro written in late March, the second tweet on the account reflects the grim reality of being an Amazon FC ambassador. “One thing that’s become obvious to me in my short time on Twitter is how willing people are to shout down and be cruel to a fellow member of the working class who disagrees with them, even when they think that person is ‘brainwashed.’ The cruelty I’ve had directed at me!!!” she tweeted.

Darla’s only other tweets reflect her anti-union position – a tweet that was published the same day that employees of an Amazon fulfillment center were scheduled to vote on the company’s first major union.

“What bothers me most about unions is there’s no ability to opt out of dues!” she said on Monday. “As a single mother with two boys I’m barely scraping by as it is, and now unions want to come to Amazon and make pay them a piece of my salary. No thanks!”

Several other Amazon FC ambassadors kept their main tweets to a minimum, choosing instead to reply to ongoing Twitter threads about working at the company. The majority of those responses are specifically regarding bathroom breaks, per the reports of employees peeing in bottles.

Amazon driver thumb pee bottle
An Amazon driver shared this photo with Insider of a bottle of pee inside a delivery van.

“My [fulfillment center] lets me to take (2) 20min breaks and (1) 30min lunch. On overtime days, we get three 20min breaks, which is also pretty nice as well,” one such response from an employee identified at Gary reads. “Before the pandemic, our breaks used to be only 15min. Being an essential worker is dignifying for me.”

Another such response to a thread, from an employee named Yola, also addresses the repeated reports of employees peeing in bottles to save work time.

“Although the facility is big, there are numerous bathrooms to use,” she wrote on March 28. “My building has 12. Each bathroom can have 3-6 toilets. That’ plenty. Plus with 20-30 [minute] breaks that’s more than enough time.”

Like Gary and Darla, Yola’s account was also started in March 2021 and didn’t become active until late in the month – just as Amazon began publicly pushing back on unionization at its Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center and reports of workers peeing in bottles resurfaced once again.

A Twitter account run by the company, Amazon News, recently got into public arguments with several politicians. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Pocan, have all gotten into public spats with the account.

The tone of the account became combative enough that an Amazon engineer reportedly flagged the tweets as potentially suspicious behavior.

And Amazon consumer chief Dave Clark also got involved in those public spats, even going after Sen. Sanders’ record directly. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers,” he said, “but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, health care from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment.”

According to a report from Vox, Amazon cofounder and CEO Jeff Bezos specifically directed executives to push back harder on critics of the company. Amazon representatives did not respond to a request for comment as of publishing.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Boston Dynamics unveils Stretch, a new robot designed to move boxes in warehouses

stretch Boston Dynamics
Stretch robot.

  • Boston Dynamics just introduced Stretch, a new robot for moving boxes in warehouses.
  • The company is best known for creating Spot, the robotic dog.
  • Stretch is in a pilot program now, and will make a commercial debut in 2022.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boston Dynamics, the robotics firm behind Spot the robot dog, just unveiled a new robot. Stretch is designed to work in warehouses moving boxes, with a long robotic arm for moving objects.

It’s a “box-moving robot designed to support the growing demand for flexible automation solutions in the logistics industry,” Boston Dynamics says. It is the company’s first entrance into warehouse automation, although Spot has been used in some warehouses.

Read more: How to ace the job application and hiring process Amazon’s billion-dollar self-driving startup

The new robot is optimized for any tasks that require moving boxes, including unloading trucks and eventually building orders. The base can move in different directions to navigate loading docks and maneuver around tight spaces and changing layouts.

stretch fast_0 Boston Dynamics
Stretch robot.

Boston Dynamics says Stretch’s robotic arm is lightweight and custom-designed with a “smart gripper” that can handle different types of boxes and coverings. Computer vision technology enables Stretch to identify boxes without need specific training for each customer.

The company is looking for pilot customers to test Stretch before it is commercially available in 2022.

Take a look at the new robot in action here.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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Here’s what Costco looked like when it opened in 1983 and the annual membership was $25

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Costco is one of the most popular big-box stores in the United States. It’s known for selling everything in bulk from toilet paper to seafood.

Jerry Seinfeld: Look at this can of tuna. 

Narrator: Although the members-only wholesaler first opened in 1983, today’s stores don’t look much different than they did almost 40 years ago.

Before the first Costco warehouse opened, there was Price Club, which opened in 1976.

The first location was in a converted airplane hangar in San Diego, California. At the time, it served only small businesses.

Its executive vice president of merchandising, distribution, and marketing, Jim Sinegal, played a big role in its initial success.

After leaving Price Club, Sinegal and Jeff Brotman worked together to co-found Costco Wholesale, which they basically modeled after Price Club.

The first Costco Wholesale store opened in 1983 in Seattle. Annual club membership was just $25 at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about the same annual fee today.

Stores quickly expanded across the Pacific Northwest. 200,000 people held Costco memberships by the end of 1984 and another year later, the company filed for an IPO. Soon, it became a $1 billion company.

Ten years after the first Costco store opened, Price Club and Costco merged to form PriceCostco.

In 1997, PriceCostco changed its name to Costco Companies, Inc. Today, it goes by Costco Wholesale Corporation – or as most people know it, just Costco.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.

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More than 400 Amazon workers have been infected with COVID-19 at Canadian facilities, where working conditions are described as ‘hell’

Amazon warehouse staff
Amazon shipping boxes leaving a warehouse.

  • More than 400 Amazon workers in Canada reportedly have tested positive for COVID-19, and some are blaming workplace conditions.¬†
  • The cases occured at four facilities near Ontario. “The working conditions are hell,” an employee who left prior to the pandemic told The National Post.¬†
  • “There is no social distancing, there is no sanitation,” an unnamed employee told The Post.¬†
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

More than 400 Amazon workers in Canada reportedly have tested positive for coronavirus, with some blaming workplace conditions. 

“The working conditions are hell,” a former Amazon worker told The National Post.

The spread occured at four facilities near Ontario, according to the Post, which quotes former and current employees at the facilities. 

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.¬†

The company has previously said new hires are being trained to follow strict health and safety rules. It said it invested more than $800 million in new pandemic safety measures in the first six months of 2020, according to an October press release.  

“Our top priority is ensuring the health and safety of our employees, and we expect to invest approximately $10 billion in 2020 on COVID-related initiatives to keep employees safe and get products to customers,” the company said on a page dedicated to its COVID-19 improvements.¬†

But employees at the Canadian facilities have placed some blame for the spread on the fast-paced culture at Amazon facilities. 

“There is no social distancing, there is no sanitation,” an unnamed employee told the Post.¬†“Many of them, 99 per cent of them, are scared of working there, but they have no choice.”

According to the unnamed employee, workers at the Canada facilities are told not to use their own N95 masks. Employees reportedly said they’re timed as they fill boxes, and their bathroom breaks are monitored.

Amazon and Walmart have been locked in battle over which can make shipping and returns easiest. The emphasis on speed makes it difficult for some workers in Amazon warehouses to follow COVID-19 rules, according to the report. 

Ontario on Monday announced a province-wide shutdown, which will begin at 12.01 am on December 26. 

“The number of daily cases continue to rise putting our hospitals and long-term care homes at risk,” said Doug Ford, premier, in a statement.¬†

Amazon’s footprint is ever-growing. In the US this month, it announced new fulfillment centers in Louisiana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and several locations in Texas.¬†

As the company expands, some lawmakers are asking questions about workplace policies and pay. Last Friday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called warehouse employment a “scam” because thousands of workers were reportedly on food stamps.¬†

The US National Labor Relations Board last week said it had found merit in claims that Gerald Bryson, who worked at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center, was fired in retaliation for protesting health and safety policies in the warehouse.

In Alabama, workers are expected to vote in January on whether to unionize, according to The Hill. A vote to unionize would be a first for Amazon’s US facilities.¬†

In a statement issued to The New York Post,¬†Amazon said: “We don’t believe this group represents the majority of our employees’ views. Our employees choose to work at¬†Amazon¬†because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire.”¬†

 

 

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