The construction of Tesla’s Texas factory was marred with injuries, safety complaints, and even death. Now that construction has ceased, however, and the plant is fully operational, it should be well and truly safe for the workers it employs. Right? Right?
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Not so, according to a new report from the Information. In fact, it sounds like things may have only gotten worse for Tesla workers down in Austin, who stand a one-in-21 risk of injury on the job. From the Information:
At times, building materials—including a crane, a steel beam and an air conditioning duct—have fallen near people working on car production lines. Forklifts have collided with and injured people on the factory floor, current and former employees said. Around the new year, there was an explosion in the castings area, where giant presses turn molten aluminum into car parts, that was powerful enough to throw workers to the ground, according to two witnesses and five others who saw video of or were briefed on the events. That incident resulted in a worker suffering a concussion, three of the people said.
The injuries in Giga Texas include sprains, cuts and fractures resulting from workers getting body parts caught under or between machines, according to Tesla injury records for 2021 and the first nine months of 2022, filed with Travis County, Texas. Some workers got sick from exposure to toxins like ammonia. In August 2022, a production associate’s ankle got caught under a moving cart, forcing that person out of work for 127 days. Four days later, a metal object struck a material handler in the head, forcing them out for 85 days, according to the records.
The crux of these injuries appears to be speed — Tesla’s commitment to always doing more, building more, and never pausing to think about the cost. Apparently, this has led to another possible source of injuries beyond stabbing-via-robot: Just getting the shit beat out of you by your boss.
The factory’s rapid growth has created other workplace stresses in Austin. Current and former employees say they face constant pressure from managers to work faster and harder. Shouting matches break out between employees on the factory floor on an almost daily basis, and occasionally physical altercations occur, they say. Employees say when they brought such incidents to the attention of the human resources department and managers, they largely ignored those concerns.
If forklift hits and supervisor beatings weren’t enough, Giga Texas is also reportedly home to explosions within its walls:
A bigger risk to employees is when water is accidentally submerged in the molten aluminum, which can result in larger explosions like the one that occurred around the New Year. The violent explosion of the Giga Press caused a deafening sound and shook everything around it, according to the two witnesses and others who were briefed about or who saw surveillance video employees shared of the event. It destroyed the die—the mold that shapes the aluminum—creating a massive block of solidified metal resembling concrete, and sending a ball of fire and then smoke into the air. A 14-foot door, which sealed off a chamber in which the casting occurred, curled up like a taco, one of the people said. Some employees fell to the ground from the force, while others ran away from the scene, the people said.
The casting industry goes to great lengths to avoid explosions because of the dangers involved, according to Robert Tuttle, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Design, Manufacturing and Management Systems at Western Michigan University. Such incidents, said Tuttle, are “not normal for the industry.”
Worst of all, many of these injuries and accidents have never been reported with regulatory bodies. Tesla’s logs with local Texas governments only show accidents through last September, and it’s unclear if even OSHA got word of incidents like the die explosion.
All in all, it seems life is great over at Giga Texas. I foresee no issues in ramping up Model Y production, or in building all those shiny new Cybertrucks. From here on out, it’s all peak to peak.