Concern for staff at Asos clothing warehouse in South Yorkshire
Concerns have been raised for the welfare of staff at the Asos clothing warehouse in South Yorkshire after it emerged that ambulances have been called to the depot 148 times in three years.
Firms JD Sports and Asos have been accused of running their warehouses like ‘satanic mills’ after new figures showed that ambulance call-outs to their sites have rocketed over recent years, reigniting concerns over working conditions.
Figures show that JD Sports saw 40 call-outs to its Rochdale site last year, while ambulances were sent to the Asos depot in Grimethorpe, Barnsley, 45 times in 12 months – a rate of almost one every week.
Ambulances have been dispatched to JD Sports' Greater Manchester premises 117 times over the past three years and 148 times to the Asos warehouse in South Yorkshire.
Responding to the figures, Matt Draper, of the Unite union said: "The warehouses of some companies risk becoming the dark satanic mills of the 21st century.
"It doesn't have to be this way though. Where employers work with trade unions and treat people with respect there are fewer accidents and a better health and safety record.
Asos also came in for heavy criticism from the GMB union over the figures, which were released by ambulance services under the Freedom of Information Act.
Regional secretary Neil Derrick said: "Asos bosses appear to be in denial about the inhuman conditions people have to work under in their Grimethorpe warehouse.
"They are making millions while workers are literally being taken away in ambulances.
"Their desperate drive for profit has created a damaging, anxiety-ridden workplace that is hazardous to our members' health."
The fresh call-out statistics do not shed light on why the ambulances were summoned.
Veteran MP Frank Field said the figures give a glimpse into the ‘appalling conditions to which the soft human underbelly of Britain's labour market is exposed’.
He added: "This sort of thing should have been left behind in the Victorian era.
"We desperately need a new employment rights Bill to protect these vulnerable workers from yet more exploitation at the hands of some of our country's largest employers."
A statement issued by Asos and XPO Logistics, which runs the Barnsley site on its behalf, said: "We are a responsible employer that values the safety and the welfare of our 4,500 Grimethorpe site employees above all else. Because of that commitment, it is our policy to call an ambulance whether a situation is work-related or not, often as a precaution.
"Since 2013, the accident incident rate has declined considerably year-on-year and has remained significantly below the industry standard throughout this period."
A spokesman for JD Sports said: "Given the scale of our operations, the number of incidents where an ambulance is called each year is proportionally very low.
"Not all ambulance call-outs are related to workplace incidents, with many relating to an employee or contractor falling ill, or for issues completely unrelated to the work environment.
"As a business, we have a responsibility to our staff and everybody on site, to take no risks when it comes to their health and safety.
"If there is a concern that an ambulance may be needed, for whatever reason, one will always be called. It would be irresponsible not to."