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June 16, 2014 10:40 AM, EDT
Department of Labor Investigates Worker Deaths at Amazon Warehouses
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

The Department of Labor said this week that it’s examining two worker deaths at warehouses operated by Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer.

One man was crushed in December 2013 after he was caught between a conveyor system while sorting packages at a facility in Avenel, New Jersey. Another fatality occurred June 1 at a fulfillment center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The probes add to labor issues Amazon faces as CEO Jeff Bezos is opening distribution centers worldwide. The Seattle-based company has faced criticism, some coming from labor unions, for treatment of employees.

Earlier this year, an attempt to form a labor union of Amazon workers at a Middletown, Delaware, center was rejected by workers. Last year, Amazon also grappled with strikes in Germany, as warehouse workers demanded collective wage agreements and increases in minimum pay.

Amazon has been building more distribution centers to move closer to consumers to help speed delivery. As of mid-2013, the company had spent almost $13.9 billion on fulfillment expenses — including 50 new facilities — since 2010. Amazon had 89 warehouses at the end of 2012 and had announced five more for the United States last year. The centers are in locations from Beijing to U.S. sites, including in New Hampshire and Indiana.

In the first quarter, fulfillment expenses climbed 29 percent to $2.3 billion.

The Labor Department’s probe is being handled by its Occupational Safety and Health Administration division. Ronald Smith, a temporary worker, died in December, OSHA said, citing five companies for violations at the Amazon facility in Avenel. Those included the contractor responsible for the sorting operation and four staffing agencies that hired temporary employees to work at the warehouse. Amazon wasn’t cited by the government for the death.

“Any accident that occurs in a facility is one too many, and we take these matters seriously,” Amazon said in a statement.