Tag Archives: Amazon

Amazon warehouse accidents total 440. What’s the story?

According to a BBC news story “Amazon warehouse accidents total 440”.

While this is obviously bad news for the people involved, is it good or bad compared to the industry as a whole?

The tenor of the story implies it is bad news.

But then the details of the story don’t quite back that up.

Firstly, the 440 figure is the total of four years worth of data collected by the GBM union from local authorities via freedom of information requests. The figure for the last complete year, 2017-2018, was 149.

Is this number high? Well, Amazon says it has 25,000 people employed in the UK and the Health and Safety Executive says the average non-fatal accident rate in the warehousing and transportation support industries category in 2016-2017 was 1,577 per 100,000 workers.

Assuming the rate has stayed about the same the following year, for Amazon to have had an average accident rate it would have recorded 394 accidents. So on these data you could say Amazon is a substantially better than average performer on accidents.

The BBC story quotes the GMB saying : “the actual numbers were probably higher, because some local authorities were unable to provide details of incident reports.”

That may well be so, but frankly they could be double and it still would not be much of a story.

The power of the platform

What is the key to allowing large companies to move fast? Build great platforms. I first heard this insight being persausively argued in Mark Zuckerberg’s interview with John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly at Web 2.0 in 2010 – an age ago in internet time. 

In this clip he tells how he urges his people to “be fast and be bold”. He then talks about what it means to be agile. While small start-ups can do it easily, the larger you get the harder it is to move fast. But, he says, people can move quickly on top of a robust platform built on “solid abstractions”. 

I also remember being impressed with the speed that Yahoo! teams were able to build strong features on the back of solid APIs to things like single sign-on, maps and Flickr photos. Because the APIs are easily internally available, teams are able to function on the innovation rather than the plumbing.

Amazon is perhaps the supreme example of a company build on the power of the platform. Jeff Bezos has built a platform which can quickly turn its hand to selling just about anything. There was an accidental post by a Google engineer Steve Yegge which famously demonstrated the pain it took getting there, but there is no doubt that the platform approach is one of the main underpinnings of Amazon’s huge success. That same post argued that Google was, incidentally, some way away from the ideal which illustrates eloquently just how hard it is to get it right.