Amazon’s workplace safety chief to leave next month, internal memo says

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A worker sorts out parcels in the outbound dock at Amazon fulfillment center in Eastvale, California on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.

Watchara Phomicinda | MediaNews Group | The Riverside Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

Amazon‘s top executive overseeing workplace health and safety is leaving the company next month, CNBC has learned.

Heather MacDougall, who joined Amazon in 2019 from the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, is departing the company on Oct. 7, according to a memo that John Felton, Amazon’s head of operations, wrote to employees on Monday.

“After building with us for over three years as an important member of our leadership team, Heather has decided to pursue other opportunities outside Amazon,” Felton wrote in the memo, which was viewed by CNBC. “I want to thank her for her many contributions, and I wish her well on the next step in her journey.”

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed MacDougall’s departure.

MacDougall oversaw the health and safety of Amazon’s global workforce of 1.5 million-plus employees at a crucial period. In early 2020, as Covid-19 was spreading rapidly, causing businesses and office buildings to temporarily shutter, Amazon’s warehouse and delivery employees continued to report to work as consumer demand soared for rapid delivery.

Employees criticized the company’s coronavirus response, arguing it wasn’t doing enough to protect them on the job, and Amazon has faced widespread scrutiny over the injury rates in its warehouses. Workers, labor groups and lawmakers have complained that the company prioritizes speed over safety, which puts employees at a higher risk of injury than rivals. Workplace safety concerns are one major impetus behind the recent organizing wave at Amazon warehouses.

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Amazon has disputed reports of unsafe working conditions. During MacDougall’s tenure, the company set ambitious goals to reduce injuries, including a plan to cut recordable incident rates, an OSHA measurement covering injury and illness, by half by 2025. Last year Amazon committed to become “Earth’s Best Employer,” adding it to its list of corporate values, even as labor unrest intensified.

Prior to her tenure at Amazon, MacDougall served two terms as the head of the OSHRC, a federal agency charged with reviewing workplace health and safety disputes between employers and the Labor Department. She was appointed to lead the agency by the Obama administration in 2013.

MacDougall also forged ties with high-profile safety organizations to burnish Amazon’s safety image. In June 2021, Amazon and the National Safety Council announced a partnership to target the reduction of sprains and strains commonly suffered by warehouse workers.

Becky Gansert, who serves as vice president of global specialty fulfillment, will replace MacDougall as head of global workplace health and safety. Gansert will also oversee Amazon’s learning and development teams, which are charged with “improving the everyday experience” of warehouse and delivery workers, among other tasks.

“Safety and the overall associate experience are priorities that are intricately linked, and Becky is uniquely qualified to move us forward with both,” Felton said.

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