California safety regulator investigating working conditions at Tesla

19 Apr 2018

Tesla charging stations. Image: Jag_cz/Shutterstock

Working conditions at Tesla’s California factory are being scrutinised.

It is a turbulent time for Elon Musk’s Tesla, as Model 3 production slows and the company deals with the death of a driver behind the wheel of one of its autonomous vehicles.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has officially opened an investigation into the company in light of a recent report about working conditions at its auto factory in Fremont.

The agency did not provide details in terms of the specific reasons for the commencement of the probe, but investigations can stem from a range of factors, including internal complaints and media reports.

Allegations against Tesla

The inspection started on Tuesday (17 April), following allegations from Reveal that Tesla neglected to disclose serious worker injury reports, which are legally mandated.

One worker, Tarik Logan, began experiencing intense headaches from the fumes of a glue he was using at the plant – pain which lasted for weeks. This inhalation injury was allegedly not added to the official injury logs at Tesla. Other injuries such as sprains and repetitive strain injury from building the cars were also allegedly not logged.

A spokesperson for Tesla said that the agency was simply fulfilling its legal requirements to investigate all claims and stressed: “We have never in the entire history of our company received a violation for inaccurate or incomplete injury record-keeping.” The spokesperson also described the allegations as “baseless”.

Tesla addressed the allegations in a blogpost earlier this week, describing the article as “an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organisation working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla”. The United Auto Workers union has been making efforts to organise the Tesla plant workers for more than a year.

Tesla said the injury rate at its Fremont factory, which it took over from General Motors and Toyota, was half what it was in its final years under the previous occupation.

Elon Musk seeks productivity boost

Tesla is at a difficult point as a company at present, with Elon Musk telling staff to walk out of unproductive meetings and even ignore company rules on occasion in order to boost productivity, according to the The Guardian.

Musk noted that he wished for staff to avoid large meetings, adding: “It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

The Model 3 car is aimed at the mass market, but Tesla has been struggling to fulfil a backlog of orders for the vehicle. The leaked email also said that hundreds more staff would be recruited in order to man an extra shift at the plant so it can operate continuously.

Musk was firm in his request for high standards at the plant: “All contracting companies should consider the coming week to be a final opportunity to demonstrate excellence. Any that fail to meet the Tesla standard of excellence will have their contracts ended on Monday.”

Tesla charging stations. Image: Jag_cz/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects