Amazon warehouse robot accident leaves 24 hospitalised

Frenzy hit Amazon this week as a warehouse robot at the firm’s Robbinsville Township, New Jersey location went awry, puncturing a bear spray can and injuring dozens of employees in the process.

The robotic device is said to have punctured the canister of bear spray, filling the third floor of the self-styled “fulfillment centre” with toxic fumes. Employees were evacuated, but dozens experienced the ill effects of the fumes, from trouble breathing to stinging in the throat and eyes, reported local officials.

The incident has left 24 Amazon employees in hospital, one of whom is in critical condition. A further 30 people were treated at the scene by emergency services.

Amazon says the incident is the result of an “automated machine”, what that means remains to be seen. The term covers any number of potential suspects, from old-school conveyor belts to programmed robotic arms.

Meanwhile, external communication manager at Amazon, Rachael Lighty, was busy doing damage control. “Wednesday at our Robbinsville fulfilment centre, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility,” she said in a statement.

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“The safety of our employees is always our top priority, and a full investigation is already underway. All employees in that area were relocated to a safe place, and employees experiencing symptoms were treated onsite. As a precaution, some employees were transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment.

“All of the impacted employees have been, or are expected to be, released from the hospital within the next 24 hours. We’d like to thank all of the first responders who helped with this incident,” she continued.

Bear Smart, an organisation which promotes awareness about bears, explains that non-lethal bear deterrent, such as the one deployed at Amazon, result in pain which is “only temporary”, with no lasting harm to the skin or eyes of people or animals.

This is not the first time Amazon has come under fire for its working conditions; a spate of workplace accidents and injuries earlier this year resulted in striking and police clashes. With this latest accident affecting so many, the damning indictments are only amassing.

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