A recent report by Reveal alleges that Tesla concealed the number of injuries occurring at its Fremont, CA facility, where the company is producing its Model 3 economy vehicle. The report also suggests that the number of injuries exceeded the industry average.
Injury Reports Required
Tesla is required by law to report every work-related injury that results in days missed from work, medical treatment beyond first aid, and job restrictions. Reveal, however, found multiple injuries at the plant that were seemingly work-related that had been labeled as “personal medical cases,” meaning that they were not counted when the company assembled its reports.
These “personal medical cases,” recorded in Tesla’s internal injury tracking system, included a worker who stayed home one day because “his left arm was in pain from installing wiper motors during his shift,” a worker who “fainted and hit [his] head on [the] floor” because he became “uncomfortably hot” in a group work setting, and a worker who injured her shoulder from repetitive motion due to an “Unfriendly Ergonomic Process.”
“I saw injuries on there like broken bones and lacerations that they were saying were not recordable” as injuries, said a former Tesla safety professional. “I saw a lot of stuff that was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’”
Tesla employs over 10,000 workers at its Fremont factory. The company recorded 722 injuries in 2017, about two a day. Workers at the factory have been crushed by forklifts, sliced by machines, burned in electrical explosions, and sprayed with molten metal.
Reveal also found that the company did not always count injuries involving temp workers, skewing its results. For instance, in its report to OSHA for 2016, Tesla declared that it had incurred 705 recordable injuries. After workers requested its injury logs last year, however, the company amended its report to include an additional 135 injuries. The company said it changed the numbers after discovering injuries that had not been by reported its temp agencies.
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited Tesla for more than 40 safety violations since 2013. Tesla has been cited eight times for deficient training in that period, including twice in 2017. Already in 2018, regulators cited the company for failing to “effectively assess the workplace” for chemical hazards; Tesla is appealing the citation.
In 2016, Tesla’s rate of serious injuries that required time off or job restrictions, 7.3 per 100 workers according to Reveal‘s research, was 83 percent higher than the industry average of 4 per 100 workers. The company’s total injury rate that year was 8.1 per 100 workers, over 30 percent higher than the industry average of 6.2.
In a February 2017 company-wide email and a subsequent shareholder meeting that June, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk claimed that the company’s injury rate was much better than the industry average.
The company later seemed to reverse that position, with Tesla’s vice president for environment, health, and safety telling Reveal that the company’s 2017 data showed it at the industry average.
2017 data for the industry as a whole is not yet available from the United States Department of Labor, though Tesla recorded a total injury rate of 6.2 per 100 workers and a serious injury rate of 5.2 per 100.
In a February 2018 press release, Tesla touted the safety record at its Fremont factory as “light years” better than when General Motors and Toyota were operating the plant as NUMMI prior to its being shut down in 2010: “In the 2000s, NUMMI had a TRIR (Total Recordable Incident Rate) as high as 19.19 (per 100 workers), with an average TRIR of 12.6 in its last 7 full years of operations. In every one of those years, NUMMI’s TRIR was worse than the industry, and on average in those years, it was 33 percent worse.”
Tesla Blames Unions
For its part, Tesla denounced the Reveal story in a post on the company’s blog, claiming that it was motivated by would-be union organizers. “In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla,” the company said.
In October 2017, the United Auto Workers filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Tesla with the National Labor Relations Board after the company fired between 400 and 700 of its employees.
The complaint alleged that Tesla discouraged union organization by intimidating employees, punishing those wearing union logos, and firing those who participated in protected activities. Tesla insisted that the employees were punished for “performance issues.”
The Reveal story comes at a particularly bad time for the company, which had recently admitted that the March 2018 death of a driver in one of Tesla’s vehicles may have been caused, in part, by its Autopilot feature malfunctioning.
Moreover, the following month, Tesla announced that it had officially missed its goal of making 2,500 Model 3 vehicles per week. The mass-market vehicles, priced at $35,000.00, are manufactured at the Fremont facility.