Tesla, SpaceX Workers Report Numerous Injuries as Elon Musk Chases Innovation

03 Jan, 2024 Liz Carey

                               

Austin, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – Pinned by a robot arm. Killed after being blown off of a truck with no load tie-downs. Broken limbs and “crushed” fingers. Concussions from an explosion caused by water reacting with molten aluminum.

In recent reports, employees at Elon Musk’s Tesla Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, and SpaceX rocket building facility in McGregor, Texas, said working at the innovation companies is anything but safe. A report by The Information looked at OSHA records for the Tesla facility and found that one in every 21 workers at the Gigafactory was reportedly hurt in 2022. A Reuters investigation into SpaceX found some 600 previously unreported workplace injuries including amputations, electrocutions, head and eye wounds and one death.

Employees at both plants said the atmosphere at their companies were lax when it came to safety. Under-trained staff, skipped or missing safety procedures, unsafe working conditions and pushback on safety recommendations add to a culture that values fast results over employee safety, the reports said.

The Information reported that Tesla under-reported some of the injuries at the plant. In one incident in 2021, an engineer approached a robot arm that was supposed to be shutdown. Instead, the robot arm pinned him to the wall performing its pre-programmed motions. A witness told The Information that the engineer bled from his back and arms, and later, when another worker hit an emergency stop button, the engineer left a trail of blood behind him when he fell off the wall.

But the injury report submitted to Travis County, Texas, Tesla reported a robot-related incident, but does not mention the level of the engineer’s injuries or that he missed any time from work.

Another worker reported being concussed after an explosion in the metal casting area. That worker said on New Year’s Day 2023, water mixed into molten aluminum creating a ball of fire and smoke. The explosion damaged the machine and a door that sealed the chamber. It’s not clear from the report if the incident was ever reported by Tesla to OSHA.

Another worker reported that his suggestions on how to fix a molding machine that often leaked molten metal was met with reprimands suggesting something that would slow production output.

At SpaceX, Musk’s lax attitude toward safety stemmed from Musk’s disdain for bureaucracy and his belief that his companies are leading urgent movements to protect the planet.

“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,” said Tom Moline, a former SpaceX senior avionics engineer who was among a group of employees fired after raising workplace complaints. “The company justifies casting aside anything that could stand in the way of accomplishing that goal, including worker safety.”

Reuters looked at OSHA records, and interviewed current and former employees and determined that at least 600 employees have been injured at SpaceX since 2014. Many of the injuries were serious or disabling and included reports of more than 100 workers with cuts and lacerations, 29 with broken bones or dislocations, 17 with injuries to their hands of fingers, nine with concussions and one worker with a traumatic brain injury. Other cases included five burns, five electrocutions, eight amputations, 12 injuries to multiple parts of the body and seven workers with eye injuries.

In one incident, employee Francisco Cabada was working on the Raptor V2 rocket engine, when a part flew off during pressure testing, striking Cabada in the skull and putting him in a coma. Reuters interviewed eight former SpaceX employees who said senior managers were repeatedly warned that rushing the engine’s development would lead to problems. When combined with inadequately trained staff and lack of component testing, the inevitable happened. The part that failed had a flaw that was tested, employees said, but not fixed, before the pressure testing.

Reuters said that SpaceX did not respond to questions about the news organization’s investigation and findings. Musk is known for responding to media requests for comments by replying with the poop emoji to emails, texts and tweets.

Reuters said the more than 600 SpaceX injuries represent a small part of the total case count. Since 2016, OSHA has required companies to report the total number of injuries at their places of business annually. However, SpaceX facilities failed to submit reports for most of the past seven years. About two thirds of injuries Reuters uncovered came in a year when SpaceX did not report that annual data, the news agency said.


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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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