The country’s leading electric car maker has been undergoing a period of rapid growth and expansion. But according to a recent study, increased production is coming at a cost to worker safety.
A recent report by Worksafe, an advocacy group focused on worker safety, found that the injury rate for workers at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., plant was 31 percent higher than the average for car makers in the U.S. The study used data from reports filed to the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2015 (the most recent year the data is available).
The report found that Tesla had a total recordable incidence rate of 8.8 per 100 workers. The industry average is 6.7 per 100 workers. Complete numbers for the industry in 2016 are not available yet, but the report found that the recordable incidence rate did improve slightly last year at Tesla to 8.1 injuries per 100 workers.
According to CBS, Tesla has repeatedly declined to show its safety records to news organizations.
A group of Tesla employees also spoke to CBS this week, saying that safety is the No. 1 issue with working at the automaker’s factory. One body repair technician said that workers are often burned out and “trying to run as hard” as they can to get the work done every day.
A Tesla production worker also posted a blog in February detailing the many ways the company compromises worker safety.
Now, many of the workers at the plant are trying to unionize with the advice of the United Auto Workers Union.
In CBS’s report, the human resources director for Tesla said that safety improvements have been made, and that the injury numbers for the first three quarters of this year are 32 percent below the industry average.
Tesla said it has made adjustments to workers’ shifts — splitting two 12-hour shifts into three shifts, for example — to decrease the physical strain of the job.
"We may have had some challenges in the past as we were learning how to become a car company, but what matters is the future and with the changes we’ve made, we now have the lowest injury rate in the industry by far,” the company said in a statement. “Our goal is to have as close to zero injuries as humanly possible and to become the safest factory in the auto industry."
This increased scrutiny comes at a time when the pressure is on at Tesla to ramp up production, which will undoubtedly challenge the company’s safety record even more.
CEO Elon Musk has promised to increase output from about 80,000 cars in 2016 to no less than 100,000 this year and then way up to 500,000 in 2018.