Tesla Model 3 “Production Hell” Might Be Unsafe?



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

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.

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

Categories: Tesla

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46 Comments on "Tesla Model 3 “Production Hell” Might Be Unsafe?"

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3.3 and 8.1 is quite different. More Kuka robots Elon, just only ramp of injuries by doubledigit not production

The definitive word is “MIGHT”!

Speaking of robots, “folks who do the actual heavy lifting” is a provocative and false term, is it not??

Well, 20 lbs (or whatever the number for a component) might not seem like much until you do it 700X per day, then it’s a problem. From what I’ve read, the Tesla factory is no more automated than any modern tradition manufacturer. People still lift/install a large number of parts.

First, I’m going to complain about the non-zero graphed on the right. It makes it look like there are double the number of accidents.

Second, it looks like there are more accidents in the Tesla factory. A 15-30% seems barely significant. Without looking deeply into the factories, I can see a lot of room for errors (What constitutes a reportable injury? Some places ignore everything that doesn’t require a hospital visit and others report every bandaid used). At most, I can take these reported numbers as anecdotal to the entire safety culture at Tesla.

Third, honest unions are a good thing. Without unions, the workers have no recourse to influence (other than leaving the company) the corporate culture or other big decisions. If Tesla is really smart, they’d stop fighting the union (and making it a Union vs Tesla thing) and embrace it in a way where workers have more influence in the company culture. Giving employees power to influence the company in a positive way that can limit the influence of outside unions. This would effectively creating an internal union.

I am certain of one thing and that is unions will continue to decline in the US. I think that a general labor reform law to reform the system would be in order but impossible to enact. It would seem a more German style process would be more likely to get embraced by the general public, companies, and non-unionized workers. Endorsed by the UAW? Not so much. The only function of their leadership is to create a self licking ice cream cone for their own personal gain.

You win the internet with the self-licking comment! I’m curious about the self licking ice cream cone, do UAW workers pay union dues to get one?

It is given free, if you join their Labor Day Parade Float!

Well actually, it’s not that the ice cream cone is self-licking, it’s in the UAW the only ones allowed to lick it are a small number of corrupt union bosses, along with politicians and the Mafia. According to the Washington Times: “The United Auto Workers, with 380,000 members, spent $83 million on salaries for 886 employees, 508 of whom made six figures.”

And yes, ordinary workers do have to pay for all that ice cream they don’t get to eat.



If Tesla workers decided to unionize (which is their right to decide, and their right alone), they would be much better off with IG Metall instead of UAW. But they would still be tying their rope to the sinking ICE car industry.

They would be better of starting their own EVAuto union.

The biggest problem with tying yourself to UAW is that they negotiate a single contract with all the car companies. ICE car companies. And if the ICE car companies completely fail to keep up with the switch to electric, they are going to suffer financially.

The ICE car companies losing market share and losing sales will mean ICE car company workers will have to take wage cuts, benefit cuts, etc. With a single contract, Tesla workers would be drug down along with everybody else.

No they don’t, the UAW negotiates separate contracts with each company.

Their goal is to negotiate industry-wide standardized contracts. It is right in Section 3 of the UAW Constitution,m which each local Union must adhere to:

“Before contract or supplemental demands affecting skilled workers are submitted to the employer, they shall be submitted to the Skilled Trades Department in order to effectuate an industry-wide standardization of agreements on wages, hours, apprenticeship programs, journeyman standards and working conditions.”

Yes, there are two sides of negotiations, so each company fights against this standardization of wages/hours/etc. At at some level they are successful. But UAW’s negotiation position is always, and will always be towards a single standardized contract.

A local Tesla branch would have to get their contract proposal approved by the Skilled Trades Department for standardization before presenting it to Tesla. That absolutely takes the control out of the hands of Tesla employees, and forces them towards the Union’s standardized contract.

Of course the non-zeroed chart makes it look like they have twice the injury rate. While the Work Safe organization is a non-profit, that does not mean they are non-agenda. My guess is that they are a thinly veiled arm of unions.

That seems to be the case, yes.

And it’s great to see that the intellectually dishonest propaganda technique of cutting off the bottom of a graph is being called out here by two people.

Thank you! It’s a relief to see that some people do care about accuracy in how data is presented.

It may be non-zeroed, but the differences 15% in 2014, 31% in 2015, are clearly labeled.

Domienick — Yes, they certainly do hang a whole lot of weight on that one single 33% data point. And they choose the “Tesla is 31% higher” statistic, instead of the “2015 average is 24% lower” statistic. (both are true, but 31% difference sounds more dramatic than 24% difference). Keep in mind that all the data is based upon sample sets, and the 95-percent confidence interval can have a full point spread: https://www.bls.gov/iif/osh_rse.htm The variance in the deltas is very close to the theoretical 95-percent confidence interval, making it statistically questionable in meaning. This naturally should bring up the question with folks who do math for a living as to whether we are just looking at statistical noise, or actual meaningful statistics? So how do we increase the confidence? How do we remove noise from signal? Take more sample points!! Here are the numbers for the last 10 years for Automobile manufacturing (NAICS 336111) all sizes: 6.7 7.3 7.6 7.2 6.7 7.7 7.3 6.8 8.1 10.2 That makes the 10 year rolling average for building cars 7.56 But Tesla also builds an SUV which falls under this category: Light truck and utility vehicle manufacturing (NAICS 336112) 7.0 6.6 7.3 8.5… Read more »

If the union gets a hold on the factory, the Model 3 will be a failure. Wages will go up to levels where they could not sell it for the current prices. The only reason this plant is in California instead of South Carolina is because there is no union. If the union gets a hold of the factory, look for the next factory built in the US to be built in a right to work state.

They are comparing Tesla to the AVERAGE rate for automobile factories. That means that there have to be some above that average rate. What is the accident rate at Ford, GM, Chrysler, and all the foreign plants in the US? What is the rate of accidents in union plants vs non-union plants?

All numbers that would be nice to have to make a real determination as to how serious this is.

I still maintain this whole push on the injury rate is nothing more than a push to get the union into the factory. And if that happens, Tesla is finished. No way they can charge 25% more for their products and and survive. The union would have them over a barrel because they have one plant. A protracted strike puts Tesla out of business. So they have to give into whatever the union wants, and then costs go way up and they are priced out of the market.

It is actually worse than that. The data they are quoting is broken up between car and truck/SUV statistics, and an overall statistic. The SUV/truck injury statistics are naturally higher than just car manufacturing statistics. Tesla builds both a car and an SUV in 2016/2017. And despite moving into a HIGHER risk manufacturing group, Tesla managed to REDUCE injuries in 2016. (Tesla has also stated that 2017 numbers are even lower). But despite the change in category to mixed, and the lowering in incidents, the numbers Worksafe and the Unions use as the baseline continue to be JUST the lower car-only manufacturing injury rate. They also continue to focus on the 2015 number for cars only, which were a statistical anomaly for the industry and much lower than 10-year trends. When you look at 10-year averages, and use the statistics for both SUV and car manufacturing, Tesla’s 2016 numbers are actually dead on industry averages. Let’s hope Tesla is able to continue that, and even improve on that record going forward in 2017 and beyond. ______________________________________ With that said, it is certainly possible that the new assembly line will have an increased number of injuries. This is very typical of… Read more »

What are the statistics for other car companies?

Historically, for various Ford Motor Company and General Motors and Tesla Motors factories, Ford and GM have locations that have both much better, and much worse injury and days out statistics:

Ford best: 0/0
Ford worst: 121/73

GM best: 0/0
GM worst: 71.52/29.4


Worker safety at high production levels is very do-able. The GM Orion plant (Bolt EV and Sonic), which can produce 6,000 vehicles per week, set a record of 10 million man-hours without a lost-day accident.

“Orion’s hourly employees are represented by UAW Local 5960 who have set an industry record of continuous operation without a lost work day (10 million man hours, July 2008)”


Safety is addressed through excellent management, worker training, and a
safety-first” corporate culture. Most manufacturers have been incorporating ergonomics into their production process engineering for decades. Glad Tesla is finally joining the club.

I’ve learned to be very skeptical of “lost day” reporting. We had an employee lose the majority of a finger, but showed up to work the next day. Therefore our “XXX days without a lost time accident” sign just kept on rolling!

(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

lol, you beat me to it.
We had an accident where someone that works in different departments go hit by a shipping box. Badly bruised and scraped. After going to the hospital and getting wrapped up, the dude came back in the next day, avoided that other department so you guessed it, 0 day lost!!!!

The problem is that if the union gets into the Fremont plant, that will be the end of Tesla. Wages will go up so much that the base model Model 3 will not be $35K, but $45K instead.

If they can’t build a car without fairly compensating their workers, they should raise the price or switch to fully robotic.

Should of course say while fairly compensating.

Nick, in what universe is there a manufacturing process that is “fully robotic”?. Pfffttt…..

I don’t know where they are getting that data, but here is the numbers GM reported in their OSHA 300/300A forms around that time:

Establishment Name Street City State Zip Year SIC NAICS TCR DART DAFWII
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2008 3711 336111 1.21 .69 0
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2007 3711 336111 1.56 1.07 0
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2004 3711 336111 4.14 1.87 .35
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2003 3711 336111 5.03 2.54 .58
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2002 3711 7.7 4.63 1.37
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2001 3711 8.1 4.69
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 2000 3711 11.65 5.52
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 1999 3711 13.65 7.29
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 1998 3711 19.4 8.48
General Motors Corporation 483-900-021 4555 Giddings Rd Orion MI 48359 1997 3711 19.03 8.69

@OP said: “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…”

That statement is factually wrong.

The Tesla worker safty topic is currently an isolated raised topic by pro-union Tesla employees working in alliance with the UAW to unionize the Tesla Fremont Factory…it’s not a general “public perception” topic.

+1 on that one

@OP said: “…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…”

So who is “we”? The @Op? The InsideEVs Editorial Board? The UAW?

This @Op article is highly misleading in that it attempts to paint the current general state of the Tesla Fremont Factory workers as being unhappy and working in unsafe factory conditions…which neither is true. The article also greatly twists the Business Insider article that @OP references as a fact source.

Hear, hear! Thank you, sir.

It’s gratifying to see someone practicing critical thinking and calling out the highly misleading claims in this article.

It is indeed a major goal for every company to reduce the number of injuries to as low as possible.

But to be clear, California-based non-profit Worksafe (worksafe.org) in NOT a neutral third party. Non-profit does not automatically imply neutrality. The board and primaries include a number of current and former Union members and lawyers for the Unions, including former United Mine Workers of America, and AFL-CIO General Counsel.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. I’m sure they do some good work. But their connections to the Union movement needs to be kept in mind.

(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

Where each accident occurs, Tesla should hire an engineering firm to do analysis and design a method of automation.

I slipped off a toilet at work once and injured my tailbone. But since it happened at work, on the clock, it was a covered incident.

Talk about a Bad Aim!

Was the slip due to rushing into the John? Was it Sideways? Backwards? Off the Front?

Have you had any ‘Near Miss’ Repeats of this incident? Did it happen right after, or before a Break?

Big investigation required of this ‘Slip and Fall’ accident!

(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

NASA has a solution for that!!!

Musk isn’t fighting Unionization just for kicks. He knows it’ll increase costs and decrease worker productivity.

Unions once had a noble purpose. But now they serve to enrich their leaders, and allow their members to be minimally productive without fear of job loss.

Greetings from Tesla Hell-Gate Fremont, now with Hot Tickets:

What? No rockets? I figured that the gates of hell would at least be heated by at least one rocket engine…


It’s an ecologically friendly gate to hell, though there is still some smoke and fire.

Here you want rockets:

Yea!! Rockets!!

“The upstart automaker has had a bit of a bumpy time when it comes to the public perception of its worker safety standards…” No, that is a gross exaggeration. A few union agitators stirring up trouble and publishing mostly false agitprop does not amount to a change in public perception. Or at least, not this member of the public! Some news websites are putting Tesla under the microscope, and that’s the only reason this union agitprop is getting any attention at all outside of the Tesla workers themselves. Frankly, I’m getting annoyed at the way InsideEVs has become a mouthpiece for all too much anti-Tesla propaganda within the past several months. This UAW agitprop has already gotten too much coverage here. “…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.” Well then, they should form their own union. Literally. That would be far better for them than joining the bloated and corrupt UAW, which has long since lost sight of its original purpose of representing and protecting workers. And… Read more »

Aww, shucks. I just don’t feel guilty.

I did try. Ok, not really.

The Graph is highly skewed to tell a story all is bad. In the world of Ford or GM – with steady production volumes this graph might display a problem, but Tesla has been ramping up production over the coarse of x years. One should index for that to compare steady oil with new EV. If you look at it that way Tesla and the workers at the factory did a very good job by making the plant safer.

Alien dreadnought concept should improve worker’s safety as most of them will be at home.

Oh wait, most accidents happen at home…