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Apr 05, 2019 10:42 AM EDT

Why Workers Keep Getting Injured At Tesla

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Workers at the Tesla auto plant spent more than twice as many days out of work due to work-related illnesses and injuries in 2018 as compared to 2017, a new report from Bloomberg revealed.

This is based on Tesla's own annual report filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the report, factory employees at Tesla's plant in Fremont, California spent a total of 22,454 days absent from work in 2018 compared to 'only' 7,619 days in 2017. The report also showed that the rate of injuries per hour worked remained the same, even though the number of total injuries increased by 28%.

In response to this, a representative from Tesla clarified in a statement to Business Insider that "the number of days an employee spends away from work due to injury does not correspond to the injury's severity". The electric car maker also told Bloomberg that its overall rate of injury is still "a little lower" than those of other carmakers in the industry.

Despite this, the rising number of injury statistics is still raising questions and concerns regarding the way that Tesla handles work safety at its factories. While the auto industry does follow safety protocols and guidelines stricter than most, it's still inevitable for workers to get into a few accidents here and there.

But why do workers keep getting injured at the Tesla's auto plant?

After all, this isn't the first time that Tesla is getting heat for its questionable work conditions and apparent treatment of workers. Last year, the automaker was also involved in a related controversy about its supposed underreporting of work-related injuries. An article published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting suggested that Tesla did not report injuries on purpose, even severe ones, in order to hide the real number of work-related injuries in the auto plant.

In the article, Reveal said, "An investigation by Reveal in April showed that Tesla prioritized style and speed over safety, undercounted injuries and ignored the concerns of its own safety professionals."

The team interviewed several former employees at Tesla and asked them about their experiences at the plant. Some said in the report that "workers with chest pain, breathing problems or extreme headaches have been dismissed as having issues unrelated to their work, without being fully evaluated or having workplace exposures considered."

Tesla's own clinic reportedly refused to treat temp workers who were suffering from a work related injury on Tesla's assembly lines, in order to avoid adding them to the injured list. Medical assistants at the plant were also left alone during night shifts, leaving them unprepared to take care of all the injuries that occurred during their shift.

"The goal of the clinic was to keep as many patients off of the books as possible," said a former physician assistant who worked for Tesla for three weeks. "Every company that I've worked at is motivated to keep things not recordable. But I've never seen anybody do it at the expense of treating the patient."

This time, though, it seems like Tesla is a lot more careful about how it comes across to the media. Tesla's vice president of environmental health and safety, Laurie Shelby, explained a few things that apparently could have contributed to the additional number of injuries in 2018.

"It was a big ramp year for Model 3, so there were a lot more hours worked, more production staff and more potential for incidents," Shelby explained. "We really focused on making sure we had our safety team out in the area as we ramped."

Shelby also pointed out to Business Insider that two out of three injuries at the Fremont plant were considered as "aggregate trauma caused by repetitive stress to the back, neck, wrists, hands, and shoulders."

This means that the injuries were not exactly caused by a one time incident, but rather by a buildup that happened over time. Whether or not that's a good thing is still debatable, though. But in terms of further improvements, Tesla says it will be introducing new initiatives in the future that will allow injured workers to "return to work in altered roles", which could potentially lessen their time out of work even if they're injured.

"The most important metric is fatalities, and our number is zero," Shelby said.

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