Production ramp up increases fears for safety at Fremont factory

The coming months for Tesla, as noted by CEO Elon Musk during the initial Model 3 handover event, will be "production hell" as it transitions from making a dozens of cars a month to as many as 5,000 per week by the end of the year. And while there's no doubt the ranks of management will put in long days and experience frustrations, the real hell will happen on the factory floor.

Worksafe California chart of Tesla TRIR

Worksafe California chart of Tesla TRIR

The upstart automaker has had a bit of a bumpy time when it comes to the public perception of its worker safety standards and, according to Business Insider, as this latest exponential ramp up begins in earnest, some of the folks who do the actual heavy lifting are concerned that skipping usual steps, like soft tooling, may come at the expense of injury to them. It is, after all, their bodies that are on the line. Literally.

As Musk is fond of pointing out, the Model 3 was designed to be easier to manufacture, which will help, and the operation is said to be more highly automated than previous production lines. Additionally, the company now "incorporates ergonomics into the manufacturing process,according to the Mercury News, and has redesigned some parts of the line to reduce likelihood of physical injury.

Workers are, we imagine, pleased about any efforts made to increase safety, but that doesn't mean they aren't taking steps they feel will help protect them. Recently, a group affiliated with a push for representation by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) sent an open letter (PDF) to Tesla's independent board members making their case for improved safety and other issues.

Tesla data changes 2017 Worksafe
While some may be tempted to dismiss their concerns — unions are seen by many as an unhelpful element that simply adds to a product's cost without providing benefit to the final consumer — a May report (PDF) from California-based non-profit Worksafe clearly makes the case for improvement. Yes, this is an issue Musk has personally addressed, writing in a letter in February that the company's "total recordable incident rate (TRIR) is under 3.3," but without having sufficient data from Tesla, it (Worksafe) can not validate that incredible claim. And indeed, the figure quoted by the Musk at that time is likely to have moved upwards as significant revisions (see chart on right) have been made to February numbers.

We look forward to seeing Tesla achieve its production goals and hope that the Model 3 lives up to expectations, moving the needle toward more sustainable transportation. At the same time, we also hope that the company is successful in making the structural changes needed to substantially improve worker health and happiness. The two are somewhat codependent.

Source: Business Insider, Mercury News, Worksafe