Since 2014, ambulances have been called to Tesla’s factory in California, USA, over 100 times for incidents such as fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains, incident reports obtained by The Guardian have found.
As well as this, the company didn’t release its recordable incident rate (TRIR) between 2013 and 2016 because their figures don’t “reflect how the factory operates today”. They did release 2017 TRIR data which showed that their record went slightly above the industry average.
Tesla’s “trippy boss” Elon Musk admitted to The Guardian that workers are “having a hard time, working long hours and on hard jobs,” but pointed toward the firm’s improving safety record as a sign of progress.
“We’re a money-losing company,” he said. “This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing.”
But, according to the accounts of factory workers who spoke to The Guardian, more needs to be done.
One recalled: “We had an associate on my line, he just kept working, kept working, kept working, next thing you know – he just fell on the ground.”
Another recounted the time he told a manager about his physical pain: “[He said:] ‘We all hurt. You can’t man up?’”
A worker, who asked to remain anonymous, mused on why this situation may have developed: “From what I’ve gathered, Elon Musk started Tesla kind of like an app start-up and didn’t realise that it isn’t just nerds at a computer desk typing.
“You really start losing the start-up feel when you have thousands of people doing physical labour.”
When to introduce HR into a start-up is a tricky decision. But it needs to be embedded early on for its full effect to be felt - and to avoid a firm playing catch-up later down the line.
A Tesla spokesperson commented: “In a factory of more than 10,000 employees, there will always be isolated incidents that we would like to avoid.”
Musk concedes: “It’s incredibly hurtful and I think false for anyone to claim that I don’t care.”
Last year he slept on the factory floor “to make it the most painful thing possible”. He explained why: “I knew people were having a hard time, working long hours and on hard jobs. I wanted to work harder than they did, to put even more hours in. Because that’s what I think a manager should do.”
Image courtesy of Flickr user OnInnovation.