Last reviewed 15 June 2021

Amazon has launched a European Operations Innovation Lab designed, it explained, to enhance the employee experience through the development of advanced technologies that support safer ways of working.

Based in Vercelli, Northern Italy, the Lab focuses on testing and developing future technologies to help enhance safety in its facilities in Europe while also, Amazon claims, supporting employees in their daily work.

It is, for example, looking at a fully automated single-item sortation system that reduces muscle strain by removing the need for an employee to rummage through a tote (a large box) to look for items.

It is also examining robot sorters, smaller robotic arms that eliminate repetitious tasks for employees, such as lifting, stacking, and turning, allowing employees to focus on the kind of work robots cannot do.

A new site in Doncaster will be a test area in the UK for new technology to support safer ways of working.

Welcoming the proposals, Dan Fell, chief executive of Doncaster Chamber of Commerce, said: “Through our partnership on fulfilment centre tours at the height of the pandemic, Amazon has demonstrated to members of the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce and others across the UK how people and technology can work hand-in-hand in the workplace to create a positive, and most importantly, a safe workplace for the benefit of both businesses and their employees.”

However, the GMB union, which has previously drawn attention to the number of ambulance call outs to Amazon warehouses and to “hundreds more serious injuries or near misses”, is taking a more cautious approach.

GMB National Officer Mick Rix said: “If Amazon is serious about addressing its health and safety problems then it should recognise an independent workers’ voice and get round the table with GMB Union to agree safer ways of working”.

Automated guided vehicles and robot sorters are not enough, he concluded.