Amazon faces backlash over COVID-19 safety measures

Amazon is introducing new technology to keep employees safe at work, including a wearable device that alerts staff if they get too close to each other.

The retail giant has faced lawsuits in both Europe and the US claiming it is not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its warehouses.

One US union accused the firm of profiting from the pandemic while leaving its workers unprotected.

Amazon said it had invested billions in COVID-19 initiatives.

The firm is now testing a wearable device that alerts workers when they are violating social distancing rules, according to CNBC, which obtained a memo about the technology.

The clear plastic sleeve beeps and lights up if workers get too close to each other.

According to the report, it will initially be tested in one warehouse in Washington.

Comments on a private online forum for Amazon warehouse employees indicated that staff were not impressed.

One suggested that the battery would be killed "so fast" because it is "impossible to keep 6ft [1.8m] apart".

Another commented: "They would probably have a lot of people quit if they do make this a mandatory thing."

A third employee compared it to an episode of Black Mirror, a Netflix drama which examines how technology could create a dystopian society.

Amazon has also just announced Distance Assistant, another a new tool in its efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus in its warehouses.

The device provides visual overlays on a screen to show how close people are to each other. Those who are the required distance apart will be shown with green circles around them, while those too close are highlighted with red circles.

It uses machine learning to differentiate people from their surroundings and, combined with depth sensors, creates an accurate distance measure.

The device is being tested in a handful of warehouses.