Tesla Factory Safety Under Scrutiny After Worker Is Injured
Tesla is already under scrutiny because of its uncertain financial outlook, troubles producing a new model and safety questions about its driver-assistance technology.
Now it is coming under fire on a new front: workplace injuries.
California’s job safety watchdog said Friday that it was investigating a recent incident at the automaker’s factory in Fremont that left a worker hospitalized with a broken jaw.
It said the man, a 30-year-old millwright employed by a subcontractor, had been hit by a skid carrier, a piece of equipment used to move a vehicle through the assembly process.
The state agency, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, has six months to issue citations for any violations of workplace safety regulations.
The incident, which occurred April 9, was first reported by Bloomberg and was confirmed by the agency in an email.
Earlier this week, a nonprofit news organization, the Center for Investigative Reporting, cataloged a series of injuries suffered by Tesla factory workers. They included back strain, repetitive-stress injuries and severe headaches that one worker attributed to fumes from an adhesive. The article said that Tesla’s injury rate exceeded the industry average in 2016 and that the company had chosen not to report certain incidents as required under California labor law.
In a blog post, Tesla said the article had incorrectly counted some injuries that actually occurred away from the car plant and had relied on “outright inaccurate information.”
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health said Friday that it had opened a second inquiry involving Tesla but would not specify the nature, saying no information could be released until the case was closed.
Tesla issued a statement saying it took any injury “very seriously” and pledged full cooperation with the state agency. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety and well-being of those who work at Tesla every day,” it said.
The company also sought to distance itself from the April 9 incident, saying the injured worker was not under its supervision.
“This injury involved a worker who had been hired by an independent contractor and was performing a procedure that had been developed by and was under the supervision of that contractor,” Tesla said. “This contractor was also responsible for reporting the injury, which they did.”
David Michaels, who led the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama and is now a faculty member at George Washington University, said the reports of injuries at Tesla were worth investigating.
“If you have injuries, it means the manufacturing system is not working the way it’s supposed to, or is not well designed,” he said. “Injuries mean things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.”
Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, has acknowledged that the company has struggled to work the kinks out of its assembly line as it gears up its first mass-market offering, the Model 3. He has described the debugging process as “production hell” and said recently that he was sleeping at the factory.
Hailed only a year ago as a rising force in the auto industry, Tesla has traveled a bumpy road over the last several weeks. The company is counting on the Model 3 to increase revenue and pare its quarterly losses. Concerns over glitches in its manufacturing process recently prompted Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade Tesla’s credit rating and warn that the company could face a cash crunch later in the year.
A federal safety agency is investigating a March 23 crash in which a California man died when his Tesla Model X sport-utility vehicle slammed into a concrete barrier on a highway near San Francisco. The accident happened with the Autopilot driver-assistance system engaged.