Tesla Inc. is under investigation by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health following whistleblower allegations that the company was underreporting serious workplace injuries at its Fremont, California, plant.
The whistleblower, Justine White, a former Tesla safety manager, told the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal that she was inspired by CEO Elon Musk and wanted to work for him. But what she and her colleagues endured were, in Reveal’s words, “a chaotic factory floor where style and speed trumped safety.”
According to Reveal, Ms. White oversaw safety for thousands of workers on Tesla’s general assembly line. She was in charge of responding to worker injuries, reviewing injury records, teaching safety classes, and assessing the production facility for hazards.
When Reveal probed Ms. White’s allegations, it found that “Tesla has failed to report some of its serious injuries on legally mandated reports, making the company’s injury numbers look better than they actually are.”
Another Tesla worker told Reveal that they saw “broken bones and lacerations” that the automaker did not accurately record. Tesla managers also allegedly pressured workers to work through injury and often belittled employees who complained of being injured on the job.
Some internal Tesla records Reveal obtained indicated that the company mislabeled some serious injuries as personal medical or minor incidents.
Cal/OSHA said in a statement that the agency defines “a serious injury or illness as one that requires employee hospitalization for more than 24 hours for other than medical observation, or in which a part of the body is lost or permanent disfigurement occurs.”
This alleged underreporting likely led to the sharp decline in Tesla’s worker injury rate, which the company said fell last year to the auto industry average of about 6.2 injuries per 100 workers.
Ms. White told Reveal that “Everything took a back seat to production.”
“It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets killed,” she said.
Cal/OSHA declined to tell Bloomberg what prompted its Tesla investigation, but it’s possible Reveal’s report caught the attention of its safety regulators.
“Cal/OSHA takes seriously reports of workplace hazards and allegations of employers’ underreporting recordable work-related injuries and illnesses on the Log 300,” a Cal/OSHA spokesperson told Gizmodo, adding that inspections usually involve reviewing the employer’s Log 300 – a record work-related injuries and illnesses.
The state’s probe will also include “a review to ensure that serious injuries are reported directly to Cal/OSHA within eight hours as required by law,” Cal/OSHA told Gizmodo.