A recent investigative report by Buzzfeed details the way in which mail-a-meal tech start-up Blue Apron, in a rush to quickly scale operations, allegedly flouted health and safety rules and failed to protect employees from a violent work environment.
The company, now worth $2 billion, is based in California and ships tens of thousands of meal kits to households across the country each day. Company leaders wanted to alter the way Americans buy, receive, and prepare food, while also slashing food waste and increasing distribution and delivery efficiency. In order to make this happen, the firm had to very quickly hire a huge unskilled workforce. On the surface, this was a good thing. It brought jobs to an economically depressed area. However, the Buzzfeed investigation revealed through dozens of interviews and hundreds of documents that the company may not have been prepared to properly manage those workers and ensure their safety. The result was a spate of health and safety violations for workers.
Like many start-ups – particularly in e-commerce industries – the company reportedly relies heavily on temporary workers. There is also a heavy demand for high work quotas that leave workers exhausted. As these companies grow, wages for workers at the bottom shrink. The growing capital isn’t extended to the lower levels of the company, and that often includes health and safety considerations.
In other cases, these behemoth companies (think Amazon, Uber, etc.) use contractors to help fulfill the demand. But that means operations – and safety – are not overseen by the big-name firm.
But even when workers are employees rather than independent contractors, it can be difficult to ensure an adherence to safety codes and OSHA guidelines when new workers are being hired by the hundreds each month.
Business publication Triple Pundit pointed out many of these fast-rising companies rely on the “fail fast” model. That is, as the firm grows rapidly, it dives into new ideas, components, and markets very quickly. If they fail, executives scrap them right away. This can be effective as a marketing strategy, but it’s dangerous when we’re talking about an employee’s status or safety.
Although this isn’t descriptive of all start-ups, those that do value worker investment and worker safety tend to grow at a slower pace.
Former employees say Blue Apron, like other companies that grow so quickly, fails to adequately vet employees. In some cases, large numbers of rival gang members were hired to work on the same floor, an assertion backed by police, who say security at these sites was inadequate.
It was not uncommon, they said, for people to quit on the first day on the job. All of the dozen workers Buzzfeed interviewed reported extremely high stress levels, and each recalled at least one episode of violence, threats, injuries, visits from the police, or some combination of these health and safety issues.
Employers by law have a responsibility to make sure employees have a safe working environment. Whether OSHA can be effective in monitoring these issues and enforcing safety rules at fast-growing tech start-ups is also a question of growing concern.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Inside the Box, The Not-So-Wholesome Reality Behind The Making of Your Meal Kit, Oct. 2, 2016, By Caroline O’Donovan, BuzzFeed
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Hotel Workers Seek Better Safety Measures After Freezer Death, Oct. 2, 2016, Asheville Work Injury Lawyer Blog