Amazon has stopped shipping and receiving heavy products that require two people to move in and out of its warehouses in the Canadian and European markets, as it looks to reduce close contact among its warehouse workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.
In a note sent to sellers in Canada this week, seen by Business Insider, Amazon said it would no longer receive or ship bulky products in and out of its warehouses if they "require two people to pick, pack or ship." The new restrictions, applying to products weighing between 49 lbs and 99 lbs (22.2 kg to 44.9 kg), are intended to "protect the well-being and safety of our employees" and adhere to social distancing guidelines set by local health authorities, the note said.
A similar note was sent to European sellers a few weeks ago.
"We understand that this is a change to your business, and we appreciate your understanding as we take steps to protect the well-being of our employees," the note said.
Amazon's US-based warehouses, however, won't have the same restrictions because its warehouses in the region have special equipment and machinery that can handle bulky items without close contact among its employees, Amazon's spokesperson said. The company is still enforcing the ban of two-person lifts at its warehouses in the US.
"We continue to make every effort to help sellers get their products to customers who need them," Amazon's spokesperson said in a statement. "We are waiving monthly storage fees for affected products."
The change doesn't mean shoppers can no longer purchase bulky items, like furniture and electronics on Amazon. Sellers using their own storage facilities or third-party logistics services are still able to ship and restock those products.
John Ghiorso, CEO of Orca Pacific, an agency that helps Amazon sellers, said that the new restrictions on heavy items show the difficulty in keeping a balance between worker safety and product selection as the coronavirus outbreak brought unexpected changes to its supply chain.
"It represents Amazon's continued efforts to balance the health of their employees and their ability to get products to customers," he said. "It's a line they will need to walk for months to come."
The new policy is the latest in a series of moves Amazon has made in its warehouses worldwide, as it grapples with growing safety concerns for its workers that pack and ship its packages every day.
More than 70 Amazon facilities are reported to have at least one infected employee, and last week, Business Insider reported the first confirmed case of death of an Amazon employee from coronavirus disease. Amazon previously said it doesn't keep track of the exact number of infected employees.
Groups of warehouse workers have called out Amazon's loose workplace safety measures over the past month, staging multiple protests across the country. Just this week, more than 300 warehouse workers pledged to call off work, according to the nonprofit United for Respect.
In an email to Business Insider, Amazon's spokesperson said the reports of employee protests have been "grossly exaggerated," saying more than 250,000 people came to work on Tuesday. The spokesperson said ensuring the health and safety of Amazon employees is "our top concern."
"We encourage anyone to compare the health and safety measures Amazon has taken, and the speed of their implementation, during this crisis with other retailers," the spokesperson said.
Amazon has made dozens of policy changes to ensure the safety of its warehouse workers during the pandemic. Earlier this month, it announced it would provide face masks and regular temperature checks to its workforce. It's also started disinfectant spraying and enhanced cleaning procedures across its facilities. Meanwhile, workers are getting an increase in their regular and overtime pay throughout April and unlimited unpaid time off if they feel sick.
For the sellers that use Amazon warehouses to store and ship their products, this week's change is just one more restriction. Last month, Amazon stopped accepting non-essential products at its warehouses to prioritize high-demand products, like medical supplies and household staples. Although Amazon loosened those restrictions last week, multiple sellers told Business Insider that they're still only able to ship in very limited quantities of non-essential products.
Here's the full note sent to sellers this week:
Hello from Amazon,
In order to protect the well-being and safety of our employees, and to ensure our continued adherence to guidance from local health authorities regarding social distancing, we are temporarily limiting receiving, restocking, and shipping for products that require two people to pick, pack or ship. This applies to parcels and individual products weighing between 49 lbs and 99 lbs (22.2 kg - 44.9 kg).
For products and parcels already on their way to our fulfillment centers and that are between 49 lbs and 99 lbs (22.2 kg - 44.9 kg), we will make every effort to receive these products while adhering to guidance from health authorities. This includes using mechanical means to receive and process the order. Any shipment rejected will be sent back; however we expect these cases will be limited.
If you have already created a shipment for products weighing between 49 lbs and 99 lbs (22.2 kg - 44.9 kg) and it has not already been shipped, please cancel the shipment.
For products weighing under 49 lbs (22.2 kg), please limit your total parcel weight to 49 lbs (22.2 kg).
Please note that Amazon (including our Support Associates) does not have further information to share on limitations of products weighing between 49 lbs and 99 lbs.
We understand that this is a change to your business, and we appreciate your understanding as we take steps to protect the well-being of our employees.
Thank you for your patience,