In September, Billy Foister, a 48-year-old Amazon warehouse worker, passed away after a heart attack at work. According to his brother, an Amazon human resources representative informed him at the hospital that Billy had lain on the floor for 20 minutes before receiving treatment from Amazon’s internal safety responders.
“How can you not see a 6ft3in man laying on the ground and not help him within 20 minutes? A couple of days before, he put the wrong product in the wrong bin and within two minutes management saw it on camera and came down to talk to him about it,” Edward Foister said.
Amazon said it had responded to Foister’s collapse “within minutes”.
An Amazon worker on the same shift told the Guardian: “Bill was on the floor for quite some time and nobody knew that time until cameras were reviewed, but in 20 minutes a worker in a nearby department saw him lying on the floor and then began radio callouts for 911. It really is unbelievable how Bill was laying there for 20 minutes and nobody nearby saw until an Amnesty worker with a radio came by.”
The worker, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, noted the Amnesty worker started CPR after finding Foister. Amnesty workers are Amazon floor monitors who ensure the warehouse floors are clear and reset robot units when necessary.
The incident is among the latest in a series of accidents and fatalities that have led to Amazon’s inclusion on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s 2019 Dirty Dozen list of the most dangerous employers in the United States. The report cited six Amazon worker deaths between November 2018 and April 2019, and several news reports over the past few years that have detailed dangerous working conditions.
Foister, a stower who scanned and stocked warehouse shelves with products at an Amazon warehouse in Etna, Ohio, just outside of Columbus, went into cardiac arrest on 2 September 2019.
On the 911 call recording, obtained by the Guardian, the operator directed an Amazon employee through finding and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) on Foister, who was unresponsive to CPR. Emergency services responded to the call in under six minutes.
“After the incident, everyone was forced to go back to work. No time to decompress. Basically watch a man pass away and then get told to go back to work, everyone, and act like it’s fine,” said another Amazon worker on the shift.
Billy Foister was taken to a hospital, where Edward was immediately told that his brother had passed away after efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Edward noted that a week earlier, his brother had gone to the warehouse’s AmCare clinic and reported headaches and chest pains. According to Foister, his brother had his blood pressure taken and was told he was dehydrated, given two beverages to drink, and sent back to work.
“There was no reason for my brother to have died. He went to AmCare complaining about chest pains. He should have been sent to the hospital, not just sent back to work just to put things like toothpaste in a bin so somebody can get it in an hour,” Edward said. “It seems Amazon values money way more than life. If they did their job right, I wouldn’t have had to bury my little brother.”
Amazon denied that Billy Foister died at the warehouse and said he was treated “within minutes”.
“The passing of the employee did not occur at the facility. The employee experienced a personal medical issue (heart attack) and lost consciousness. Several trained team members quickly responded and administered CPR and AED until local emergency responders arrived, within minutes, and took over. The employee was then transported to a local hospital for further treatment, where he was later pronounced deceased,” said an Amazon spokesperson in an email.
A similar incident occurred at the Etna fulfillment center in March 2019, where a picker, Joe Bowman, died after going into cardiac arrest. According to 911 call records, a 60-year-old picker went into cardiac arrest on the job on 20 March 2019 and was found unconscious.
“Go back to work,” the supervisor who reported the incident to 911 personnel told another concerned worker while on the phone with theoperator.
“Everybody worked as usual,” said a third worker in Etna on the shift.
The supervisor told the 911 operator on the recorded call that the worker was “down three to five minutes without CPR”.
Amazon did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the incident or on the frequency of such incidents among its fulfillment center workforce.
Amazon also denied providing delayed medical attention to Billy Foister, though it’s not the first time the company has been accused of providing delayed medical attention to a warehouse worker during a cardiac arrest. In January 2019, the widow of 57-year-old Thomas Becker filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging management delayed medical attention during a cardiac arrest while Becker worked at a Joliet, Illinois, Amazon warehouse in 2017. The lawsuit is pending in federal court for the northern district, eastern division, of Illinois.
Between January and March 2019, 28 911 calls were made from the fulfillment center in Etna, including five instances of suicidal concerns regarding employees and five on-the-job injuries. About 3,700 workers are employed at the warehouse.
An Amazon spokesperson said: “As a company, we work hard to provide a safe, quality working environment for the 250,000 hourly employees across Amazon’s US facilities. Safety is a fundamental principle across our company and is inherent in our facility infrastructure, design, and operations.”