Over 50 Amazon warehouse employees were sickened on Wednesday as an automated machine punctured a can of bear repellant. The accident has resulted in 24 employees being hospitalized, with one worker in such poor condition that they’ve been sent into intensive care.
Working in Robbinsville Township in central New Jersey, the warehouse employees were amidst the holiday rush when the accident occurred at around 8:45 a.m., according to Amazon spokesman John Nalbone. According to Nalbone, “an automated machine punctured a 9-oz can of bear repellent,” releasing the harsh spray into the third floor of the warehouse. Confined to the floor’s south end, Nalbone says that the accident did not require a complete evacuation of the 1.3-million-square-foot facility that employs over 3,000 people.
The canister contained capsacian, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, can “cause burning or stinging pain to the skin, and if ingested in large amounts by adults or small amounts by children, can produce nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and burning diarrhea.”
The area around the accident was cleared as first responders began triage outside. Nearby Robert Wood Johnson Hospital confirmed that it was treating nine workers due to the accident with one in ICU. The other injuries appeared to be walk-ins, and their damage remained unclear.
“The safety of our employees is our top priority, and as such, all employees in that area have been relocated to safe place and employees experiencing symptoms are being treated onsite,” Amazon said in a statement released to the media. The company has promised an investigation into the incident.
By 1:00 p.m., it appeared that the drama was over—a West Windsor Health Department official determined that the warehouse was safe for reentry and employees had returned to work.
For any company, a sudden bear spray attack is less than ideal. But for Amazon, which has planned a major new headquarters near Robbinsville in Long Island City, New York, the accident accentuates a long-running rap on the company’s dominant image—poor working conditions for its warehouse employees.
“Amazon’s automated robots put humans in life-threatening danger today, the effects of which could be catastrophic,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is organizing against the company’s planned headquarters, commonly known as HQ2, in a press statement. “This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this.”
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics