This Wednesday, December 5, at an Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, 24 employees were hospitalized after a robot accidentally tore open a can of bear repellant, releasing the gas into the building.
The 24 injured workers were rushed to five nearby hospitals, where one is in critical condition. Thankfully, all patients are set to be released within 24 hours. 30 others were treated at the scene for minor issues.
Robbinsville Township's communications and public information officer, John Nalbone, described what happened to a local ABC news affiliate:
"...an automated machine accidentally punctured a 9-ounce bear repellent can, releasing concentrated Capsaican."
Capsaican is the active ingredient in pepper spray. Wikipedia describes it as follows:
"Capsaicin is an active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact."
An Amazon spokesperson commented to ABC News:
"Today at our Robbinsville fulfillment center, a damaged aerosol can dispensed strong fumes in a contained area of the facility. 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. As a precaution, some employees have been transported to local hospitals for evaluation and treatment."
In a Wednesday night statement released by the company, Amazon said:
"All of the impacted employees have been or are expected to be released from hospital within the next 24 hours. The safety of our employees is always our top priority and a full investigation is already underway. We'd like to thank all of the first responders who helped with today's incident."
On Twitter, robot jokes were everywhere.
Amazon employees have no union, but the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president, Stuart Appelbaum, issued a statement:
"Amazon's automated robots put humans in life-threatening danger today, the effects of which could be catastrophic and the long-term effects for 80 plus workers are unknown. The richest company in the world cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people's lives at risk. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices."
Let's hope the robot is reprogrammed right away and further safety measures are installed. The well-being of every human working in fulfillment centers like this one should be Amazon's highest possible concern.