Twenty-four employees at an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey were taken to hospital after a robot accidentally punctured a can of bear repellent.

The 255g can containing concentrated capsaicin, a compound in chilli peppers, was punctured by an automated machine after it fell off a shelf, according to local media.

The incident happened on Wednesday at a warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey, on the outskirts of Trenton.

Amazon said: “All of the impacted employees have been or are expected to be released from hospital within the next 24 hours. The safety of our employees is always our top priority and a full investigation is already under way.”

The employees were taken to hospital “as a precaution”, Amazon said earlier.

The incident has again shone a spotlight on conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, which have been criticised in the US and the UK for poor working practices and a focus on productivity above worker safety.

A Guardian investigation in June detailed multiple instances of workers left unable to work after injuries sustained in the warehouses, including the Robbinsville fulfilment centre.

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Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said: “Amazon’s automated robots put humans in life-threatening danger. This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. The richest company in the world cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people’s lives at risk.”

Bernie Sanders, the US senator who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, is among the politicians who have raised concerns about Amazon’s work practices and low pay.

In the UK, ambulances were called to Amazon warehouses 600 times between 2015 and 2017. The company has denied that it had poor working conditions.

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