Musk’s SpaceX Under Scrutiny after Employee ‘Near Amputation’

28 Feb, 2024 Liz Carey

                               

Redmond, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – U.S. safety officials have fined Elon Musk’s SpaceX after an accident at its Washington rocket facility.

Officials have fined SpaceX $3,600 this month following an incident that led to a “near amputation,” inspection records show.

According to OSHA records, inspectors from the Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries inspected the company’s Redmond, Wash., site last year in December. The visit was prompted by worker complaints, state inspection records show. The inspectors reported that the site lacked a “thorough safety program,” as well as lacking adequate communication of work rules, and a system to “correct violations.”

Inspectors said the “near amputation” occurred when a roll of material fell on a worker’s foot, crushing it. Inspectors further found that employees were not required to wear steel-toe boots despite the fact that the rolls of material they have to load into machinery has increased from about 80 pounds per roll to 300 pounds each. The violation was considered serious considering the risk of injury, an agency spokesperson told Reuters.

The report further said that a worker told inspectors that “safety can get overlooked” because of the company’s desire to “make as much as we can in a short amount of time.” The injured worker told inspectors that rolls were loaded into the machine incorrectly, and that the process had been “deliberately set up incorrectly for the purpose of increasing the production rate” during the loading phase.

According to the worker, the issue had not been addressed despite his injury, and that safety officials at the company do not “have the reading comprehension nor the overall competency to implement a safety plan at the Redmond site.”

Managers at SpaceX told the state inspectors that it was a one-time incident and the problem was fixed.

SpaceX has come under scrutiny for disregarded worker safety regulations and practices at its plants across the country. In a report last year, Reuters found that at least 600 previously unreported injuries happened to SpaceX workers between 2014 and 2023.

That investigation found that more than 100 workers suffered cuts or lacerations, 29 suffered broken bones or dislocations, 17 had hands or fingers that were “crushed” and nine had head injuries, including one skull fracture, four concussions and one traumatic brain injury. Other injuries included five burns, five electrocutions, eight accidents leading to amputations, 12 injuries involving multiple body parts and seven accidents involving eye injuries.

Current and former employees told Reuters that the injuries were the result of a chaotic workplace where under-trained and overtired staff often skipped basic safety procedures in a race to meet the aggressive deadlines Musk had set for space missions. Employees said the two decade old company takes the position that workers are responsible for protecting themselves.

“Elon’s concept that SpaceX is on this mission to go to Mars as fast as possible and save humanity permeates every part of the company,” Tom Moline, a former SpaceX senior avionics engineer who was fired after raising workplace complaints, told Reuters. “The company justifies casting aside anything that could stand in the way of accomplishing that goal, including worker safety.”

In the last decade, Reuters found, SpaceX has been fined more than $50,800 for various violations. In 2023, Spacex turned a profit  after experiencing two annual losses. The company generated $55 million in profit on $1.5 billion in revenue during the first quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company was recently valued at an estimated $150 billion, putting its valuation on the same level as Intel or Walt Disney.

Reuters found a separate incident reported less than 24 hours after the near amputation. The incident left an unidentified Redmond employee hospitalized with a broken ankle after they jumped off a dock during a fire alarm. Inspectors said the company could not have foreseen the incident and the company was not fined for it.

However, the relatives of killed and injured employees are fighting back. Last month, the wife of a comatose worker filed a negligence suit against the company.

Ydy Cabada, the wife of Francisco Cabada, filed suit in a state court in Los Angeles, California, last week on behalf of her husband. Francisco Cabada was injured in 2022 when the fuel-controller assembly cover of a Raptor V2 engine broke away during pressure testing at the rocket testing facility in Hawthorne, California. The part hit Francisco in the head, fracturing his skull. The worker has been in a coma ever since.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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