• Heather MacDougall, the vice president of worldwide workplace health and safety for Amazon, gave us an inside look at Amazon’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • “I’ve learned in my first year with Amazon that there’s speed in business, there’s Amazon speed, and now there’s pandemic speed,” she said. “We’ve had to think fast and move quicker.”
  • Read the full interview with MacDougall here. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The health and safety of Amazon’s massive global workforce is the key responsibility of one top executive: Heather MacDougall.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Business Insider, MacDougall described how she spends her days in the midst of the pandemic, talked about when she realized coronavirus would be more serious than previous crises, and revealed what could change permanently about how Amazon operates as a result of the pandemic.

“I’ve learned in my first year with Amazon that there’s speed in business, there’s Amazon speed, and now there’s pandemic speed,” she said. “We’ve had to think fast and move quicker.”

She said Amazon is tracking confirmed and suspected cases among employees and third-party workers, in addition to tracking the rate of employees going into quarantine due to close contact exposure. 

“We have seen the quarantine rate fall dramatically,” she said. “We aren’t done though, we’re continuing to innovate, exploring technology, such as through an app, to assist in reminding our people of the importance of social distancing — and providing reminders when they get too close.”

MacDougall said she spends her days in internal meetings assessing the company’s new and existing protective measures, such as temperature checks and disinfectant spraying in buildings. As she helps manage the company’s response internally, she has also been reaching out to “peer companies” to discuss issues impacting the global supply chain, she said.

“Like so many people, my days are long and blur one into the other,” she said. “I have two teenage daughters, one home from college, and I try to take a break for dinner with them or to get outside to go for a walk or run but each day is consumed with planning and assessing Amazon’s COVID-19 response. We can’t rest.”

MacDougall also addressed recent employee walkouts concerning safety issues and discussed the challenges of making decisions in an environment where information is rapidly changing, such as guidance on the efficacy of face masks.

“There are times when you don’t know what you don’t know; so we are at the tip of the spear in this,” she said. “We faced a global lack of masks or knowledge as to the value of masks to slowing transmission of the virus. Guidance from various sources — whether that’s WHO, CDC or OSHA — either initially hadn’t been formed or continually evolves.

“This is one of the few times that I think employers are asking the government to issue guidance!” she continued.

Before joining Amazon, MacDougall was an attorney and served as a commissioner and chairman on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent federal agency that reviews citations and penalties resulting from workplace inspections.

Read the full interview with MacDougall here.

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