Two dozen Amazon employees were hospitalized when one of their robot coworkers malfunctioned, spraying their workplace (and 30 more workers) with caustic bear repellent and putting one in critical condition.
Disaster struck when a robot co-worker “accidentally” tore open a 9-ounce can of bear repellant at Amazon’s Robbinsville, New Jersey fulfillment warehouse on Wednesday, exposing 55 employees to concentrated capsaicin, the active ingredient in pepper spray.
Thirty employees were treated on the scene, while 24 more were dispersed across five local hospitals “as a precaution” for “evaluation and treatment,” according to a statement from Amazon. One was reported to be in “critical condition,” though details were not forthcoming. Amazon assured media that all workers would be discharged from the hospitals within 24 hours.
Amazon claimed a “full investigation is already underway,” thanking emergency personnel who responded to the scene. Employees were reportedly relocated to a “safe place,” though those “experiencing symptoms” were said to be treated “onsite” – presumably not in the warehouse full of bear repellant. A tweet from the Robbinsville fire department painted a rather more dire picture of the situation, mentioning “7 ambulances and a medic” assigned to the scene and multiple employees becoming ill.
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union accused Amazon of “putting hard working people’s lives at risk,” claiming the robot had put its human colleagues in “life-threatening danger” and pointing out that the long-term effects of being sprayed with a can of bear repellant are “unknown.” Amazon workers are not unionized, but species solidarity supersedes union ties.
Amazon employees in Europe went on strike last month to protest “inhuman” safety conditions at the company’s factories. An undercover investigation by a Mirror reporter revealed employees so afraid of being sanctioned for taking bathroom breaks that they keep water bottles nearby for relieving themselves, as well as workers exhausted to the point of falling asleep on the job. Earlier this year, the company received a patent for employee wristbands that will allow managers to monitor their location and productivity in real time and send a “buzz” when the employee makes a wrong move.
Now, the workers will also have to avoid getting pepper-sprayed by a robot.