Tesla, an electric-automobile manufacturer, made headlines last month after Worksafe, a California-based worker advocacy group, released a report indicating that the injury rates at Tesla’s Fremont manufacturing facility were higher than the industry average in 2014 and 2015. For example, the report indicated that the rate of serious injuries at Tesla’s Fremont plant (i.e., those resulting in days away from work, restricted duty, or transfer) was approximately double the industry rate for 2015. The report further questioned Tesla’s claim that injury rates had fallen between 2016 and 2017, with Worksafe arguing that the injury data Tesla had recorded at that time was too preliminary to be considered accurate.
In an effort to improve safety, Tesla has recently made a number of changes, such as: adding a third shift to reduce overtime and improve safety; hiring an ergonomics team to focus exclusively on improving health and safety and reducing ergonomic risks; and adding a safety team to each department. Most recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took the additional step of sending this e-mail to employees to demonstrate just how serious he is about employee safety:
No words can express how much I care about your safety and well-being. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.
Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.
This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from a safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.
It will be interesting to see what comes from this personal pledge by Musk. In the meantime, all employers should be continually evaluating and reevaluating their safety efforts in the workplace. To drive home its mission of workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) currently lists on its website the names of workers across the country who have lost their lives on the job in various industries, along with the dates, locations by state, and manners of their deaths. According to OSHA’s figures, “[m]ore than 4,500 workers lose their lives on the job every year” across the country and across industries. Planning, training, and supervision are keys for prevention.