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Tesla Builds The Safest Cars But The Workers Who Build Them Are Not Safe At All
Praise has to go to Tesla for making some of the world’s safest cars. No, really, kudos to what is still a new and inexperienced manufacturer for showing the establishment that its small size has actually helped it eschew the encumbrance overly long development cycles, decisions made strictly for-profit and other nasty characteristics displayed by the world’s automotive giants.

Tesla Builds The Safest Cars But The Workers Who Build Them Are Not Safe At All

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Tesla could have made its cars less safe, and maybe invest more in marketing or just pocket the difference to fix some other of its persisting internal problems. But the fact that it didn’t can’t but make us appreciate its business model and the effort that went into engineering safe cars that don’t endanger the life of their occupants. Autopilot-related deaths aside, which we won’t discuss now because they are a different and delicate matter, you are very likely to walk away from a crash if you’re aboard a Tesla.

With that being said, there is a part of Tesla’s safety record that is considerably more spotty - that which involves the safety of the people working in its factories. And it’s a serious concern because it had close to 50,000 employees in total (at the end of 2018) of which over 15,000 work in its Fremont, California facility.

It’s these factory workers that make it sound as if going to work is akin to entering a Super Meat Boy level. Apparently, because the automaker is constantly rushing to meet its ambitious output figures, some parts of the car assembly process are rushed and in turn, this makes worker safety take a steep dive.

And it’s not just a handful of displeased workers that are very vocal, this can actually be backed up by statistics. According to Forbes, Tesla’s Fremont plant had the highest number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations between 2014 and 2018 and also racked up the most fines.

No, really, the data indicates that Tesla had 54 reported OSHA violations in the aforementioned time frame which incurred fines of $236,730. To put that into perspective that’s exactly three times more violations and fines than all of the ten biggest other auto plants in the U.S. combined. All of these plants, most of which, by the way, make more cars per year than Tesla’s plant, only had a total of 18 violations between them.

The biggest offender in this area, after Tesla, was Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee plant which employs 8,000 workers and in the four years recorded here had five violations that resulted in $33,700 in fines. Next up were Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant and Ford’s Kansas City, Missouri plant both of which have around the same number of workers and each had four violations.

To make matters worse for Tesla, at least on paper, all the other factories in the top ten made more cars than its Fremont factory, whose total 2018 output was 254,000 units. Granted, it’s not far off the other plants, but it’s still far from achieving its target of 500,000 per annum - that’s a prospect some workers seemed to be worried about because even the current output level they said already created an often chaotic work environment.

On top of this, the on-site medical clinic located within the factory was accused of underreporting the number of incidents it had to deal with. To make matters worse, the staff at this clinic are not allowed to call 911 and ask for an ambulance and this was highlighted when one worker who reportedly had a fingertip severed in a work accident was sent to the emergency room via a ride-hailing service.

Another complaint leveled against said medical clinic was that it was clearly looking to “keep patients off the books,” according to a doctor who previously worked there. And some workers who came to the clinic accusing various pains said they were not examined properly and that clinic staff often tried to find other causes for their ailments, according to

Employees’ opinions on whether or not Tesla is a good company to work for vary quite dramatically from person to person. According to a report published on Business Insider, workers reported that “Tesla talked about worker safety, but didn't practice it.”

They discussed the strange way some of their co-workers viewed the company’s CEO (some even going so far as to say they got cult vibes from all of it) or how some workers said they’d never buy one of the cars they helped build knowing that some didn’t report manufacturing mistakes in order not to draw negative attention upon themselves.

This seems to be at odds with Tesla’s stated philosophy of having “the safest factory on Earth” or even the idea of having an on-site clinic. The company even put out a post on the official blog explaining what it did to improve upon its worker safety record - its centerpiece is a table that is split into “Fiction” and “Fact” and it tries to debunk some of the claims that have been made against it.

Tesla says that there are “real issues that need to be dealt with at Tesla or that we’ve made no mistakes with any of the 37,000 people who work at our company. However, there should be absolutely no question that we care deeply about the well-being of our employees and that we try our absolute hardest to do the right thing and to fail less often.”


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