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New Jersey worker killed in distribution center accident

A worker employed at an Amazon.com distribution center in Avenel, New Jersey, died in an industrial accident at the facility earlier this month. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the accident, but it may be months before we find out the results.

The man was crushed by equipment in the sorting center in New Jersey, which is owned by Amazon.com, but staffed by temporary workers employed by staffing agencies.

The use of temporary workers is growing, and agencies like OSHA are bringing increased scrutiny to their use, as it is concerned they may be used by some companies as a means of cutting costs by avoiding responsibility for workplace safety.

OSHA began a safety initiative early this year to improve safety for temporary workers. Temporary workers are often employed by subcontractors of the real owners of the business, thereby insulating the company from costs related to workers' compensation and other potential liability.

The initiative highlighted that a significant number of temporary workers die on the job in their first few weeks of employment. OSHA reports that 12 percent of workplace fatalities involve contractors.

Some companies view temporary workers as disposable and a report by ProPublica found that temporary workers are 68 percent more likely to work in occupations with the highest injury rate.

The Director of OSHA pointed out temporary workers, many of whom work in some of the most dangerous jobs, may have limited English proficiency and may receive inadequate safety instruction and protective equipment. This increases their risk of serious injury or death.

The worker who died had four children and seven grandchildren. While his death may be a minor inconvenience for Amazon.com, for his family it will leave them grieving with the emptiness caused by his loss.

While they may need compensation to help provide for their needs, the heartfelt wish of most families placed in this terrible position is that whatever steps necessary be taken to prevent such tragedies from being repeated. 

Source: New Jersey Star-Ledger, "Amazon.com worker's death sheds much-needed light on worker safety: Opinion," Marien Casillas Pabellon and John Pajak, December 27, 2013

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