Amazon’s gargantuan shipping operation has come under increasing pressure recently due to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
As part of measures to maintain efficiency and ensure on-time delivery for millions of customers living in lockdown, the company has started using thermal cameras to check the temperature of its warehouse workers to see if they might be infected with the virus, Reuters reported. The cameras, which have initially been installed at six sites in Los Angeles and Seattle, can check people more quickly than a forehead temperature thermometer. While not as accurate as a thermometer for detecting a fever, the system can flag potential cases for further investigation.
Amazon confirmed in a statement that it has started using thermal cameras for daily temperature checks, describing it as “an additional preventative measure to support the health and safety of our employees who continue to provide a critical service in our communities.” It added that using thermal cameras instead of forehead temperature checks creates “a more streamlined experience at some of our sites.”
Workers at more than 50 Amazon warehouses in the U.S. have already tested positive for COVID-19. If a worker shows up with a fever, they’re given paid time off and told to stay home until their symptoms clear, or to get tested if they worsen. Amazon is reportedly exploring the idea of buying its own coronavirus tests to find out more quickly if a worker has become infected.
The situation has prompted calls for Amazon to temporarily close a warehouse if a worker is found to be infected, but the loss of facilities, even for a short space to time, could cause huge disruption to the company’s finely tuned shipping operation, leading to possible delays in the delivery of essential items to customers.
Amazon has been fighting a public relations battle in recent weeks, fending off criticism from its own warehouse workers, some of whom claim the company is failing in its duty to protect them from the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. Amazon says it has been working steadily to improve protections with the distribution of face masks, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer, as well as the regular temperature checks. But the company has also been accused of retaliating against workers who spoke out against the company’s handling of its workforce during the pandemic. Amazon has described such claims as “simply unfounded.”
The e-commerce giant has more than 75 fulfillment centers and more than 125,000 full-time employees in North America. In recent weeks it hired an extra 100,000 part- and full-time warehouse workers to handle the surge in orders, and is currently aiming to hire an additional 75,000 workers.
Further afield, Amazon last week shuttered all six of its warehouses in France in response to a court instruction ordering it to investigate the risks to warehouse workers of COVID-19 contamination, and to take the necessary preventative measures. The court said Amazon could continue to deliver essential items in France but the company claimed the order was unclear and so, to avoid the risk of fines, closed its warehouses as a precaution until at least April 22. The case was brought by Union Syndicale Solidaires, a French group of trade unions.
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