Creating the Safest Car Factory in the World
Earlier this year, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) announced it was attempting to organize workers in Tesla’s Fremont factory. The latest phase of their campaign involves a concerted and professional media push intended to raise questions about safety at Tesla.
We have received calls from multiple journalists at different publications, all around the same time, with similar allegations from seemingly similar sources about safety in the Tesla factory. Safety is an issue the UAW frequently raises in campaigns it runs against companies, and a topic its organizers have been promoting on social media about Tesla.
Some of the publications who have contacted us have rejected covering this “story” because they understand it is a misleading narrative based on anecdotes, not facts. However, there will likely be a few publications that choose to publish stories regardless, so we want to make sure the public also has the facts. Watch for these articles to downplay or ignore our actual 2017 safety data and to instead focus on a small number of complaints and anecdotes that are not representative of what is actually occurring in our factory of over 10,000 workers.
First, some context is important. The difficulty of starting a successful U.S. car company cannot be overstated, as evidenced by the fact that Ford is the only other U.S. car company to have never gone bankrupt. We are attempting to break this trend in order to fulfill our mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
We are building entirely new vehicles from the ground up, using entirely new technology, production, and manufacturing methods, and ramping them at high volume. Getting this right is extremely difficult, and we deeply appreciate the hard work that all our employees do to help us achieve what most regard as impossible. While we still have a long way to go, in less than 15 years, we have become California’s largest manufacturing employer, creating more than 10,000 high-quality production jobs in the Bay Area, many of which had previously disappeared with the closure of NUMMI under the stewardship of the UAW.
As we work to achieve our mission, nothing is more important to us than protecting the health and safety of our employees. As we look at our safety record in prior years, we realize that we have not been perfect. No car factory is perfect, but particularly given that Model S and X were the first cars we built at more than tiny volumes, we fully acknowledge that they were not designed for ease of manufacturing – far from it. As would be expected, we have since learned many lessons, including how to improve the production process for the well-being of our colleagues.
Here are just some of the improvements that we have made:
- Historically, depending on production needs, some Tesla employees have worked significant amounts of overtime because it was necessary for the company to survive. However, working overtime can be challenging for employees and their families. Last year, we added a third shift to reduce the overtime burden on each team member and to improve safety. We did this because our employees asked for it, and because it was the right thing to do.
- As a result of this change, the average amount of hours worked by production team members has dropped to about 42 hours per week, and the level of overtime decreased by more than 60%. We hired our first dedicated Ergonomist in 2013, and in 2015 established an Ergonomics Team exclusively focused on improving health and safety and reducing ergonomic risk for current and future production.
- In addition to improving the process of building Model S and X, Model 3 has been designed specifically with ergonomics in mind. Our ergonomics team has worked hand-in-hand with our engineers on the design process. As just one example, we created simulations that showed us where reaching or bending by employees was most likely to occur, which in turn allowed us to redesign the equipment and the car to eliminate these issues as much as possible.
- Each department now has a Safety Team that meets regularly to increase safety awareness and recommend improvements, many of which have already been implemented.
- We are continuing to establish health and safety management procedures to scale with our operational growth.
The third shift, ergonomic improvements and increased safety awareness have collectively led to a 52% reduction in lost time incidents and a 30% reduction in recordable incidents from the first quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017. In addition, through the end of Q1 2017, the factory’s total recordable incident rate (TRIR), the leading metric for workplace safety, is 4.6, which is 32% better than the industry average of 6.7. This data shows that there has been a dramatic improvement in employee safety, we are now significantly better than industry-average, and we continue to improve each day. A few anecdotes in a factory of over 10,000 people can always be given, but these are the facts.
Tesla’s safety record is much better than industry average, but it is not enough. Our goal is to have as close to zero injuries as humanly possible and to become the safest factory in the auto industry. We will get there by continuing to ask our employees to raise safety concerns and to keep proposing ideas that make things even better.
The alternative is to stop improving and to instead do what the rest of the industry, including the UAW, has always done. But being industry average would make our safety 32% worse. We care too much about our team to go backwards.