A recent report from Bloomberg backs up previous claims about the working conditions of electric car manufacturer Tesla’s factories, as injuries and illnesses at the company tripled year over year.
In an article titled “Tesla Staff’s Lost Workdays Triple on Factory Injuries, Illness,” Bloomberg claims that in 2018, Tesla factory employees spent three times as many days off the job because of work-related injuries and illness than in 2017. Bloomberg claims that this is an indication of the strain workers were put under as the company was forced to manufacture its cars at scale for the very first time.
Staff at Tesla’s lone assembly plant in Fremont, California, logged 22,454 days lost in 2018, up from 7,619 in 2017, according to a report the company submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This surge outpaced increases in hours worked, total injuries and number of cases in which injuries caused employees to be absent.
When taking headcount growth into account, the amount of time away per worker doubled last year. The overall rate of injuries per hour of work remained roughly the same as in 2017.
The sharp increase in the number of days away from work suggests a greater severity of injuries, said Deborah Berkowitz, who served as OSHA’s chief of staff under President Barack Obama and called the data “alarming.” The rise in the average time missed — to 66 work days in 2018 from 35 the year before — is a “red flag,” she said.
Tesla’s Vice President for Environmental Health and Safety, Laurie Shelby, has claimed that the company is doing very well as there have been no fatalities on the production floor. “The most important metric is fatalities, and our number is zero,” Shelby said. “It was a big ramp year for Model 3, so there were a lot more hours worked, more production staff and more potential for incidents. We really focused on making sure we had our safety team out in the area as we ramped.”
Bloomberg further reports, however, that Tesla is working on lowering the time that injured employees are out of work as the company works on a return-to-work program:
Two-thirds of the injuries were cumulative trauma, Shelby said. These are ailments related to repetitive stress on areas of the body including the neck, shoulders, back, wrists and hands.
A federal regulation requires employers to submit annual summary data to the government and share it with employees if they request it. Companies generally don’t publicize the reports, so many of the logs aren’t available to the public for comparison.
Tesla said the amount of time injured employees are out of work could drop this year as it implements a more robust return-to-work program to help them resume work in modified roles. According to the company, every step of the production process is conducted with safety in mind, and it’s the most important topic covered in daily meetings.
The electric-car maker also said it gives employees the time they need to rest and recover even if it makes their OSHA statistics look worse. Its overall injury rate last year was slightly better than peers, and there are an average of roughly four deaths a year in the auto industry, according to the company.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has meanwhile downplayed many of the injuries saying that they related to “muscle strain” or employees being “scratched.” Bloomberg writes:
During Tesla’s annual meeting in June, Musk said while the company’s injury rate in 2017 was “a little bit above” industry average, it was better than average in the first months of 2018, and the company was aiming to reduce it to half the average.
On an earnings call last October, Musk said most of Tesla’s injuries were related to “muscle strain and getting scratched.” The company’s goal, he said, “unequivocally is to have the safest factories in the world, where people will look forward to coming to work in the morning.”
Breitbart News previously reported on claims that Tesla employees were treated poorly when injured, in some cases employees were expressly forbidden to call 911 in the event of a factory injury without company permission. Instead, company doctors inspect the worker’s injuries and in many cases allegedly have the worker sent to a local hospital via Lyft ridesharing. This is the experience that one employee reportedly faced when their finger was severed while working at the company.
Injured employees have reportedly often been sent back to work with no modifications whatsoever following visits to the on-site medical center. According to former clinic employees and medical records, some of these employees could barely walk when they were ordered to return to the assembly line. Reveal News writes:
The on-site medical clinic serving some 10,000 employees at Tesla Inc.’s California assembly plant has failed to properly care for seriously hurt workers, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
The clinic’s practices are unsafe and unethical, five former clinic employees said.
Anna Watson, a physician assistant who worked at Tesla’s clinic for three weeks in August, commented on the facility stating: “The goal of the clinic was to keep as many patients off of the books as possible.” Watson, who has been working as a medical professional for nearly twenty years, said that she had never seen anything like what was happening at the electric-car manufacturer.
Watson, who was fired from the company after raising her concerns, stated: “The way they were implementing it was very out of control. Every company that I’ve worked at is motivated to keep things not recordable. But I’ve never seen anybody do it at the expense of treating the patient.”